With the holiday behind them and training camp within their sights, the Washington Redskins are champing at the bit to show off in front of coaches and fans. But the team's summer break has been anything but a vacation for members of its offense, which will be under the microscope in 2012.
On June 29, Robert Griffin III was joined in Waco, Texas by a group of receivers who are eager to be his prime targets. In this column, we will predict how the rookie will fare in his first season under center and how others will contribute to the unit's overall performance.
Robert Griffin III
Redskins fans are anticipating great things from the team's most talked about rookie in decades, and the kid hasn't been shy about revealing the expectations he has for himself.
Most of his quotes have appeared Online, on video or on the pages of local newspapers, but there has been a common theme to most of them. Griffin wants to lead, but knows he needs to earn the respect of his teammates first.
According to ProFootballTalk, RGIII said the following, in an interview with NFL.com.
Those guys made the sacrifice to come down and see me. So, It's great that we're already starting off on the right foot... For those guys to show that they’re willing to come to Waco, Texas to work out with me lets me know they believe in me.
Griffin has said and done all the right things so far, but his rookie year will inevitably be compared to the one that catapulted Cam Newton to star status in Carolina.
Newton's first season was breathtaking, with 4051 passing yards, 706 yards rushing and a rookie-record 35 total touchdowns. The Redskins are considering using the option with RGIII, but don't expect him to run 126 times like Cam did. The two are vastly different in physical stature and Mike and Kyle Shanahan will be a bit more careful with their prized rookie than Ron Rivera was with his in 2011.
303-515, 3579 Yards, 25 Touchdowns, 18 Interceptions, 98 Rush Attempts, 625 Yards, 6 Touchdowns
Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster
Salary-wise and depth-wise, the Redskins are in good shape with their group of running backs. But talent-wise, there are a lot of questions that need answering.
How will these guys fit in an offense that will be altered slightly to fit the skills of RGIII? Will they be productive behind a line that missed over 20 games due to injury or suspension last year? And if they can be, which one will stand out in the one-cut, zone-blocking scheme Mike Shanahan covets?
Helu and Royster both had breakout performances last season, but the latter got his chance to shine because Helu got nicked up. Helu is more versatile as a blocker and pass catcher, but the coaching staff will become aggravated with him if he can't stay healthy.
Meanwhile, Hightower hopes to be back at full-strength after tearing his ACL, but it usually takes two years for backs to do so, if they ever do. The coaching staff will play the hot hand, so don't expect 1,000 yards rushing from any one of them.
Draft choice Alfred Morris may make the team and could be a late-season surprise if a serious injury shelves Helu, Hightower or Royster.
Helu: 180 Carries, 767 Yards, 7 Touchdowns, 30 Receptions, 227 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
Hightower: 85 Carries, 334 Yards, 3 Touchdowns, 20 Receptions, 156 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Royster: 52 Carries, 268 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 5 Receptions, 52 Yards, 0 Touchdowns
Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson
Santana Moss saved his own hide by getting in tip-top shape in the offseason, but he may not be the go-to-guy in this offense anymore. A lot is expected of free-agent signings Garcon and Morgan, who bring youth, speed and play-making ability to an offense that will need it in 2012.
Robert Griffin III will only be as good as the guys he'll depend on and route-running will be important, as it always is in an offense that relies on timing to make it go. The wild card of the bunch is Hankerson, who eventually could play the Brandon Marshall role that Mike Shanahan utilized in Denver, when Jay Cutler was a young pup.
In an ESPN.com article, Shanahan praised Hankerson for "a big upside, knock on wood he can come back healthy." The 2011 third-round draft choice underwent hip surgery last February, but was cleared by doctors to participate in all activities in early June.
The Redskins are being cautious with Hankerson, who could be used (early on) as a big target from the slot position. Repetitions will be vital for Hankerson and Morgan, who is returning from a broken leg.
Reserves Anthony Armstrong and Brandon Banks joined RGIII in Texas and Banks may be glad he did. He has been told in no uncertain terms that he'll have to do more to make the team than return punts and kicks.
Moss: 32 Receptions, 378 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
Garcon: 57 Receptions, 706 Yards, 5 Touchdowns
Morgan: 40 Receptions, 528 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
Hankerson: 36 Receptions, 427 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, Niles Paul
After being suspended for the final four games of 2011, Fred Davis better be as scared straight as left tackle Trent Williams. If both players remain clean of recreational drugs, the sky is the limit. But that has become a big if, with three failed tests apiece.
In 2012, Davis will act as a safety-net for RGIII, like most pass-catching tight ends are for young signal-callers. But he'll have to give up a few targets to Chris Cooley, if Washington chooses to accept a $6.2 million cap hit to keep the fan favorite.
Then there is Niles Paul, who could actually make Cooley obsolete. Mike Shanahan recently compared the second-year pro to Hall of Famer Sterling Sharpe, which caused quite a stir, but Paul is similar to Sharpe in a lot of ways. Both starred as receivers in college, and both are similar in size and weight (Paul is an inch shorter than Sharpe, but a few pounds heavier).
Paul will need to block well in order to make the transition to tight end. But if the 22-year old former fifth-round pick shows he's capable, Cooley's days could be numbered.
Can you imagine the mismatches that could be had with a tight end who runs a 4.45 40-yard dash? Shanahan sure can.
Davis: 42 Receptions, 546 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
Cooley: 18 Receptions, 234 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
Paul: 12 Receptions, 144 Yards, 1 Touchdown