The Washington Redskins are transitioning from a team filled with overpaid veterans to a youthful organization growing in depth. The change began when Bruce Allen was hired as general manager, and has become solidified with the drafting of Robert Griffin III.
The addition of a franchise quarterback allows the Redskins to focus their attention and resources on acquiring and developing quality starters and backups. While the starters are the big names most fans have heard of, the role players/backups are just as important.
Football is an incredibly rough sport and you would be hard pressed to find a player who has not suffered an injury or two. The propensity for injuries is exactly what makes backups so important, and is the reason why every year we see players rise from obscurity to stardom. This feature will discuss three Redskins who are not first on the depth chart, but will be by the end of the 2012 season.
The Redskins have one of the most powerful group of tight ends in football that no one is talking about. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham type players are some of the bigger names in the media, while the Redskins group flies below the radar.
Chris Cooley and Fred Davis are capable of starting for any team in the NFL, and the Redskins are fortunate to have both back and healthy this offseason. Together there is no telling what this duo can produce, but how long can they stay together? Cooley has struggled with injuries for several seasons and Davis' ended last year with a four game suspension. This tandem is one bad hit or mental mistake away from being separated again.
That is why fans need to keep their eye on last year's fifth round pick, Niles Paul. Paul was drafted out of Nebraska as a wide receiver but struggled to see playing time. With the addition of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, coach Shanahan asked Paul to become a tight end.
Paul is an explosive receiver who will bring is 4.5 speed to the tight end position. This quickness will allow Paul to slip by linebackers with ease and find holes in the defense. While no one is wishing for Cooley or Davis to fall out of the lineup, the odds are one will.
The Redskins have more quality running backs than quarterbacks to hand them the ball in practice. With Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, and Evan Royster, Alfred Morris is fighting just to get a few reps in every practice.
Helu finished last season on a strong note and is the apparent starter in training camp. Hightower just resigned and is a veteran presence that brings experience and versatility to the field. Royster is a solid production back that did not seem to have a chance last year but somehow made the team and saw playing time.
Despite all these backs, I am telling you to keep a look out for big Alfred Morris. Morris was drafted by the Redskins in the sixth round this year and he brings a nastiness to the Redskins' backfield. Morris looks like an angry Maurice Jones-Drew on film and simply refuses to go down before breaking a few tackles.
Coach Shanahan was asked about Morris and proclaimed him a tailback that will be in the mix. Shanahan is known for swapping backs in and out, and always finding a gem in the late rounds.
I interviewed Morris over the weekend (listen to it here) and he is ready to punish opposing defenses. I am confident that Morris's ability and Shanahan's affinity for late round backs will push Morris onto the field late this season.
London Fletcher is the established leader of defense and will command one of the inside linebacker positions. With the departure of Rocky McIntosh in free agency, the Redskins are looking to find a starter opposite of "Fletch".
Perry Riley is currently listed on the depth chart as the starting middle linebacker along side Fletcher, but that will not last for long. Riley has developed into a nice player over the past few seasons, but he is role player, not an impact player. Jim Haslett will be looking for more than just tackles, he'll be looking for big plays.
Lorenzo Alexander is the commensurate player for the Redskins. He has played a variety of positions from defensive tackle to outside linebacker, and special teams. Alexander is not just a versatile player, but also a ferocious hitter. Alexander's punishing blows have made him the Redskins special teams captain for the last two seasons.
Now, Alexander will be asked to compete for the inside linebacker position and I fully expect him to win the job. Alexander's has the vision and knowledge to be in the right position and overall power to deliver fumble inducing hits. Watch for number 97 to be starting at middle linebacker before week 8.