ASHBURN — Redskins coach Jay Gruden didn’t want to jinx himself, but he’s starting to feel optimistic about Washington finally getting healthy. Only three players on the Redskins’ 53-man roster were held out of practice Wednesday because of injury — a remarkable turnaround from where the team was a few weeks ago.
Halfway through the season, the Redskins sit at 4-4 and face a pivotal two-game stretch against division leaders, starting Sunday at FedEx Field with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Redskins still have 11 players who were limited at practice, but they’re starting to resemble a team that’s closer to full strength.
“Slowly but surely, certain guys are getting back into the flow,” Gruden said. “Now it’s a matter of getting them back up to speed, making sure we get them mentally right as well as physically. It is looking a little bit better.”
Center Spencer Long, who has missed the last two games with quad tendonitis, was among those back at practice. He was able to take reps in both individual and team drills, saying he was optimistic about playing Sunday.
Long was one of the Redskins’ four regular starters on the offensive line who missed last week’s game in Seattle. Besides Long, left tackle Trent Williams (knee soreness) and left guard Shawn Lauvao (stinger) were inactive. Right guard Brandon Scherff was active, though didn’t play because of his knee injury.
Scherff and Lauvao also practiced Wednesday; Williams did not.
“I think the mood around here was a little down because all of the injuries and stuff,” Long said. “Guys don’t like to be hurt. … We’re happy to be back. We got a tough win last week, so that was huge. That just shows you the versatility of this team, how we’re just going to keep grinding.”
At 6-2, the Vikings present another challenge for the Redskins, who are currently 1½-point underdogs at home. Like the Seahawks, the Vikings have an imposing defensive line. With a makeshift offensive line, the Redskins gave up six sacks in Seattle.
The Vikings rank ninth in defensive DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric that measures efficiency against a league baseline. They have a lockdown cornerback in Xavier Rhodes and a strong linebacking core in Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Defensive end Everson Griffen is third in the league in sacks with 10.
But Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said the Redskins have to be more concerned with taking care of business at home — where they are 2-2. While the Redskins are also .500 on the road, the Redskins played much better in their road losses (the Chiefs, the Eagles) than they did in their home losses (the first Eagles game, the Cowboys).
“We play good on the road and we come here at home and throw a goose egg,” Norman said. “We can’t have that, those mental lapses. … I look at as, man, back at home, we’re coming out here and give them something to cheer for.”
If the Redskins are going to be successful in the last half of the season, it helps they are getting healthy and have gotten contributions from the players who have stepped up in key roles. Will Compton, for instance, had a fourth-quarter interception in Seattle, and safety DeAngelo Hall played all 83 defensive snaps despite not having played since Week 3 of 2016 because of a torn ACL.
With Hall, the 33-year-old safety was graded as the Redskins’ best performer from the analytical website, Pro Football Focus.
“It was awesome being able to play with D-Hall for his first game back, thrown in the fire like that,” Compton said. “(The Seattle win) shows the coaching that we have and the depth we have.”
The Redskins might even be forced to make some tough decisions with playing time in the future. For instance, will Gruden go back to rookie safety Montae Nicholson (shoulder) or stick with Hall? Has Anthony Lanier earned more playing time if Matt Ioannidis (hand) and Jonathan Allen (foot) return?
“We’re going to have a lot of those issues moving forward,” Gruden said. “When some of these guys get healthy, what do we do with them? We’ll worry about that.”
Gruden said his team utilizes multiple packages, which will keep players active.
For the time being, the Redskins said they are focused on Minnesota.
“When everything is right in front of you and you have a chance and you’re playing for something with eight games to go, I think that’s a starting point,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “As long as we can control our destiny with the games left to play, there’s not a lot more you can ask for.”
Reed, Crowder among limited
Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed returned to practice Wednesday in a limited capacity. Both players missed last week’s game in Seattle because of hamstring injuries.
On Monday, Gruden listed them as “day-to-day.”
“They both did a little bit of individual [Wednesday,]” Gruden said. “That’s just something we’ll have to wait and see.”
Also limited in practice: Long, Lauvao, Scherff, Nicholson, tackle Ty Nsekhe (core muscle), wide Brian Quick (concussion), tight end Niles Paul (concussion), tight end Vernon Davis (hands) and tackle Morgan Moses.
Held out were Ioannidis, Williams and defensive lineman Arthur Jones (shoulder dislocation).