Washington Redskins: 8 Biggest Winners and Losers from OTAs
There are those who do not hold organized team activities in high regard: there's no tackling, no one is wearing pads and the whole thing is voluntary anyway.
While it's true that training camp is still nearly two months away—and the season-opener against the New Orleans Saints is a month after that—OTAs offer an opportunity to make the sort of snap judgment of the Washington Redskins that is simply too good to pass up.
Sarcasm aside, here are eight men whose fortunes have slightly shifted since the OTAs began.
Winner: Robert Griffin III
I'll get the obvious out of the way first.
Leaving aside his innate ability to say exactly the right thing to the press, Robert Griffin III has started to show the skills that persuaded the Redskins front office to give up the amount that they did.
In fact, the talk of his price tag has noticeably declined since OTAs began, such is the confidence that everyone seems to have in him.
Griffin wisely said that he only has about 60-70 percent of the playbook down, and as John Keim noted in the Washington Examiner, he's not immune to rookie mistakes.
However, it's encouraging that both veterans and new acquisitions have taken to him so quickly; it means he could develop a real connection with a lot of his teammates, which can only be good for the coming season.
Winner: Niles Paul
So far, the transition from wide receiver to tight end hasn't been something that Niles Paul has struggled with. His pace has been evident throughout OTAs, and he's taking a lot of reps.
Paul has bulked up in order to deal with the physical demands of the position, and his competitive nature means he'll do whatever it takes to make an impact.
The key factor that we've not been able to assess at OTAs is his ability to block. Again, I'm pretty sure that he'll do everything he can between now and the start of the season, but he can't really be judged as a tight end until we've seen him block.
Loser: Chris Cooley
If I'm placing Niles Paul on one side, Chris Cooley has to go on the other.
Cooley has been a great Redskin and will likely continue to make a good contribution this year. He's the most well-rounded tight end on the roster, and he is arguably the only complete player the 'Skins have at that position.
Because of this, it's impossible to count him out. He's also lost 20 lbs, so there is no doubt in my mind that he's still hungry for success.
Cooley is coming back from injury, so it seems obvious to give him less reps this early, but it just seems like he's lost some explosiveness this year. He has never been the quickest guy on the field, but if Paul continues his ascension and shows good blocking skills, Cooley is likely to be the one to suffer.
Winner: Raheem Morris
When the Redskins brought Raheem Morris on board to be their defensive backs coach, I thought it was a shrewd move. The reports coming out of the OTAs have done nothing to change that.
What I like about Morris is that he has clearly studied the problems the Redskins had last year, and he is doing everything he can to correct them at an early stage.
The safety position was a concern going into this season. Although steps were taken to address it with the acquisitions of Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson and Jordan Bernstine, that doesn't seem to be enough for Morris.
Morris is aware that depth is still limited, so he is demanding versatility from every member of his secondary. Mike Jones reported for the Washington Post:
Barnes has taken snaps this offseason at free safety and at one of the outside cornerback positions – a change from last year, where he was charged primarily with covering the opposing slot receiver. Meanwhile, [DeAngelo] Hall and [Josh] Wilson, who last season spent the majority of the time covering receivers on the outside, have both been working to learn that nickelback role. Hall also has taken snaps at safety. Meanwhile, [Cedric] Griffin has seen time at both cornerback and safety.
"A lot of the other guys, we've just been rotating everywhere," Hall said. "Raheem's been stressing guys learning to play everywhere. So, if push comes to shove, with motions, I could wind up playing safety one play, nickel the other. It just gives us more flexibility."
By all accounts, Morris has also been amping up the competitiveness, throwing trash talk at the Redskins receivers while also not being afraid to call out his backs when they mess up their assignments. Giving DeAngelo Hall less to do in coverage can't hurt, either.
Aside from RG3, I'm of the opinion that Morris could be the signing of the year.
Loser: DeJon Gomes
If I'm being honest, it's impossible to judge who will impress Raheem Morris enough and cement their place in the Redskins secondary. With the focus on versatility, it seems that it's all-out war for every spot.
DeJon Gomes was drafted last year, so the front office obviously feels that he could be a starter of the future,—and his run defense is good—but he is not a starter yet.
This is to be expected from a fifth-round choice, but Gomes often got lost in coverage, and it affected his ability to prepare for a tackle, which made him look clumsy.
The new recruits at safety will push Gomes out of starting contention, but this may actually end up being beneficial to his development, and his special teams ability—as well as his rookie contract—makes him a useful member of the squad.
Under Morris, I expect to see Gomes learn both safety positions and bulk up for 2013. Whether or not Morris remains in Washington will be a different story.
Loser: Kevin Barnes
I think most people would agree that Kevin Barnes hasn't lived up to his potential since he was drafted in the third round in 2009. He's shown improvement, which deserves to be mentioned, but has yet to convince as a starting cornerback.
Rich Campbell caught up with Barnes and said:
Barnes after practice on Thursday said he’s playing cornerback two-thirds of the time and safety the rest. It also appears coaches have decided not to repeat last season’s decision to use him as the top slot cornerback.
The problem I see for Barnes is that there is now such competition for spots in the secondary that he might end up missing out. He was drafted by the old regime, and the addition of Cedric Griffin, Chase Minnifield, Morgan Trent and Josh Wilson means that the new coaching staff isn't sold on him yet.
Barnes is versatile, but that is now expected from everyone, so it will no longer set him apart. He is in the final year of his contract, which could be the motivation he needs to turn the corner and put in some stellar performances this year—otherwise, it could be Barnes' last in D.C.
Winner: Santana Moss
Following the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, Santana Moss seemed to be the guy who would get the bad end of the deal.
However, it has been great to see that he has done everything he can in the offseason to ensure that he doesn't get forgotten.
Mike Shanahan has stated that Moss is in the best shape he's ever seen from him. In Shanahan's first year, Moss didn't work out during the offseason, but it says a lot about the coach's improvements to the squad that Moss is pushing himself again.
He also seems to have developed a good connection with his new quarterback,—catching some touchdown passes over London Fletcher—which definitely won't hurt his chances.
Loser: Leonard Hankerson
This is a similar scenario to Paul and Cooley, and this one might be even closer.
Both Hankerson and Mike Shanahan have stated that the hip is healed, yet his participation in OTAs remains limited to conditioning exercises.
Hank has a ton of potential, and there has been a lot of talk about 2012 being his breakout season. This could very well be the case, but I'm here to judge the OTAs, and the more time he spends on the sideline while Josh Morgan, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon catch passes, the more chance he has of missing the cut.
I know that Shanahan has a lot of faith in Hankerson, and I understand that he is being cautious in bringing him back after the injury, but I'll feel a lot better when he's catching again.
Dan Graziano reported that Hankerson has been cleared to participate, so it's now up to Hankerson to force his way back into contention.