Washington Redskins 2012: 8 Players Who Need to Improve This Season

Brian PaxtonContributor IIIAugust 5, 2012

Washington Redskins 2012: 8 Players Who Need to Improve This Season

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    The biggest story surrounding Washington this offseason is the development of Robert Griffin III. While Griffin has the potential to be a star, he'll need some serious help this year if there is any hope of surviving a brutal schedule this season, let alone competing in the NFC East.

    Last year's squad was plagued with injuries and suspensions that took the team from a 3-1 start to a 5-11 season. But aside from those problems, many starters seemed to play below their potential as the team fell apart during the latter half of the year.

    With the Ravens, Steelers, Bengals, Saints, Falcons and Panthers on the schedule, there is no room for starters to slack off, especially with a shaky offensive line already sporting injuries to starters.

    Playoffs may be a bit too much to ask this year, but if the Redskins can at least challenge some very good teams, it will be a much-needed step in the right direction.

    Let's take a look at some incumbent players who need to step it up in 2012 for the Redskins to be successful.

LT Trent Williams

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    Trent Williams has the athletic ability to be one of the best in the league. The problem is that he hasn't put that ability to use during his time with Washington.

    This offseason seems to be different, however, with Williams looking like the dominant force many hoped he would be when he was drafted fourth overall in 2010.

    So far, Brian Orakpo has been the only player to even challenge Williams in practice. Everyone else has been completely demolished in individual drills, which are stacked up against the offensive linemen.

    Even last year's rookie phenom, Ryan Kerrigan, hasn't been able to phase Williams.

    "Trent's a beast," Kerrigan said. "He's having a phenomenal training camp and there's no reason why he can't be one of the top tackles in this league. He obviously has the talent, but I think this offseason he's really put his mind to it and gotten after it. What can you do against him? He's strong as an ox and quick as a cat. He's awesome."

    With an offensive line in turmoil, Williams will be absolutely essential to protecting rookie Robert Griffin III. If he falters, Griffin will not succeed. If he finally lives up to his potential, things will look infinitely better in Washington.

C Will Montgomery

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    Will Montgomery was a journeyman in the NFL throughout his career before finding a home in Washington. He played both center and guard last season and is one of the few linemen on the team that has shown the ability to start an entire season.

    During his tenure as a Redskin, Montgomery has been inconsistent at best. He has shown flashes in the run game, but also has been demolished in pass protection. With players like Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox terrorizing centers in training camp, that's not going to cut it.

    The coaching staff has been working with rookie Josh LeRibeus on both the guard and center position. While he's not ready to take over just yet, Montgomery should be worried about his starting position if he doesn't get better in protection.

    Already Montgomery has shown some aggressiveness in camp, fighting with veteran linebacker London Fletcher. If he can translate that to the field and give RGIII more time in the pocket, it could go a long way for the Redskins this year.

RB Roy Helu

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    Before his injury, Roy Helu looked like a fourth-round steal last year. He racked up three consecutive 100-yard games and 640 yards in just five games. In a crowded Redskin backfield, Helu is the most explosive option and best outside runner.

    However, Helu needs to stay healthy and improve as a pass blocker if he wants to become the go-to starter in Washington. As of now, both Tim Hightower and Evan Royster are better at protecting the quarterback, which may be the most important attribute in a running back for Mike Shanahan with Griffin under center.

    With Hightower still hurting from an ACL and MCL tear last year, Helu and Royster have been battling in camp for the starting job. Royster has looked to be the better of the two in practice, with an innate ability to find holes to run through up the middle and a knack for picking up the blitz.

    It's far too early to pick out a starting running back from the group—even this year's sixth-round pick, Alfred Morris, has a chance to find his way onto the field—but Helu needs to prove that he can be more than just an outside runner if he wants the job.

    If Helu can show he really is the talented back that demolished Seattle last year, he should be a major factor this year for the Redskins as yet another playmaker on an increasingly more dynamic offense.

WR Santana Moss

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    Santana Moss had perhaps the most disappointing season out of any Redskin last year. Besides breaking his hand and missing time, Moss had some uncharacteristic drops and one of his most unproductive seasons of his career.

    At the end of the season, Moss received a call from the coaching staff who told him that he needed to lose some weight and show some improvement if he wanted to keep his job. Moss did just that.

    Losing 15 pounds and coming into OTA's "possessed," as Kyle Shanahan said, Moss is poised to have a breakout year in Washington as he attempts to return to his 2010 self.

    So far, he has not disappointed.

    With the addition of Pierre Garcon and the return of Leonard Hankerson from injury, Moss will most likely play in the slot this year, although he has the ability to play outside opposite of Garcon if Hankerson isn't healthy or doesn't meet expectations.

    As a great route runner with deceptive quickness, Moss has the opportunity to be one of the better slot players in the league this year and a rookie quarterback's best friend. If he can regain the step he lost last year, he should have no problems reemerging as a top receiving option in Washington.

WR/KR Brandon Banks

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    Brandon Banks also had a disappointing year last year after an exciting 2010 campaign as a return specialist.

    Apart from contributing virtually nothing but a touchdown pass on a trick play offensively last year, he also muffed seven kickoffs throughout the season. Shanahan has already explained to Banks that he needs to show that he can contribute as a receiver if he wants a spot on the team.

    With incredible speed and shiftiness but a diminutive frame, Banks faces an uphill challenge to make the team as a receiver first. But despite that challenge, the speedster has been impressive in camp so far.

    Mike Shanahan has stated that Banks was playing hurt last year, as well as dealing with the new kickoff rules that made it harder for him to break out. With an offseason to heal and learn the offense, Banks has looked better in camp, even showing an ability to beat press coverage and make circus catches.

    The preseason games will tell whether or not Banks makes the roster, but as of now, he has shown the coaches he belongs in the league. If he can translate his play in camp to the field, he should provide a much-needed boost in the return game and work as a utility guy on offense.

    Every team with a questionable offense needs a home-run threat like Banks on special teams to help provide a spark. If he can break open a few returns this season, the Redskins may be able to upset some teams they wouldn't normally beat.

CB Kevin Barnes

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    Kevin Barnes has been something of a disappointment in three years with Washington. Last season, he looked lost in the slot and routinely misread receivers.

    With DeAngelo Hall moving inside to the slot position, Barnes will be able to play outside, where he can use his length to his advantage and get another chance to prove his value to the team.

    Barnes has shown flashes in camp, once even duping Griffin into throwing an interception his way, but he'll have to show a lot more in the preseason games to come if he wants to hold off Cedric Griffin and keep a spot on the team.

    Before the injury to Chase Minnifield on the last day of OTA's, Barnes seemed all but doomed to be a reserve at best for 2012. If Barnes can finally cash in on the potential he showed in college and play well on the outside, he'll help solve a big roster problem for the Redskins moving forward.

CB DeAngelo Hall

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    With Kevin Barnes or Cedric Griffin taking the outside position, DeAngelo Hall will be given a new opportunity playing in the slot this year.

    While he will still play outside for two-receiver sets, Hall will be able to make more gambles when he works on the inside without as big of a risk. He likened his new position to a Charles Woodson-type role, though time will tell how true the comparison holds.

    “I'm probably not a great corner, but I feel like I'm a great football player,” Hall said on the transition. “To actually go in there in the slot gives me a chance to be a football player, and that's what I like to do.”

    The 3-4 defense under Jim Haslett has focused on bringing the pressure often to force quarterbacks to make mistakes. This boom-or-bust approach seemed to work well for Washington last year, but Hall was victimized on a few occasions playing the outside when the Redskins ran cover zero looks. In particular, Hall gave up a huge first down to Dez Bryant that ending up costing the team the game last season.

    If Hall can balance his coverage skills with his playmaking ability, he should be able to succeed in the slot and make those big plays that have earned him Pro Bowl status in the past.

OLB Brian Orakpo

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    Going into his fourth NFL season, Brian Orakpo already is considered to be one of the best young pass-rushers in the league and is a leader on and off the field in Washington.

    But at this stage in his career, Orakpo has to show improvement from what he's done in his first three years and finally reach elite status as a pass-rusher.

    All of the great pass-rushers employ a variety of techniques and moves in order to beat double teams and get to the quarterback early and often. In the same division, Trent Cole, Jason Pierre-Paul and DeMarcus Ware have all reached elite status through versatility.

    The main criticism of Orakpo has been that he only employs the bull rush and doesn't have those other moves that help him beat different looks.

    This year, he set out to change that in camp by learning some different moves to help him improve his rushing ability and increase the amount of pressure he can bring.

    While quite effective with just the bull rush, adding different techniques to his arsenal could only help Orakpo get better. The 3-4 defense that Washington runs is designed to allow Orakpo to rack up sack counts and rush the quarterback constantly. If he can increase his production, the defense will be remarkably more successful this year.