6 Redskins Sleepers Who Aren't Snoozing at Training Camp
The Redskins hope to give Buffalo a rude awakening on Thursday night. @GrahamGano
But so far, a few players have already done that.
Positive camp impressions are important, especially with roster cuts just around the corner. So, here's a shoutout to five men who are doing a fine job standing out in the crowd.
Perry Riley: Inside Linebacker
Riley lit up New England's Kevin Faulk in a 34-27 home loss last year. YouTube
The Redskins liked Perry Riley's potential when they drafted the former LSU star in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft (103rd overall). He played just 10 snaps as a rookie, but last year was an entirely different story for the 24-year old defender, who was recently called a "secret superstar" by Pro Football Focus (per HomeMcFanBoy.com).
Riley answered the bell in a big way when he was called upon to replace an ineffective Rocky McIntosh. Perry averaged four solo tackles and four assists per game. There must be something about the No. 4 because Riley finished fourth on the team in total tackles, with 75 in just eight starts.
So far in camp, Riley looks like a guy who should be a breakout player in his third season. He has improved so much, head coach Mike Shanahan unabashedly raves about him.
"I think Perry is going to be a heck of a football player," said Shanahan, via The Washington Post.
“He’s got natural instincts," added Shanahan. "He’s obviously a lot more comfortable with the system going into this year."
In his Post column, Mike Jones describes how far Perry has come, since immersing himself in team meetings and in the film room.
"Riley is playing at full speed because he is thinking at full speed," wrote Jones.
Perry's work ethic has been clearly visible to his peers, especially the ones who like to pump things up. One in particular is veteran linebacker London Fletcher, who believes Washington's defense can only get better with Riley's improvement.
"His game is so much more elevated because of having a full offseason to get the nuances of the defense," Fletcher said, per John Keim of The Washington Examiner.
"Last year was a great experience. There were growing pains we had to deal with, but you can see the big improvement. He can play a lot faster," Fletcher added.
And that progression has the coaching staff giddy about Riley's potential in 2012.
"From the time we started our offseason program and got working, he has had just this intensity and focus," pointed out linebackers coach Bob Slowick in Mike Jones' column. "He’s understanding his assignments and how our schemes are supposed to work, and on the field, he has that same intensity and he’s just attacking," said Slowick.
"He is a playmaker," added Coach Shanahan.
[Riley] has great speed, great agility and always seems to be around the football. There are some people that are just natural football players and he is one of those guys.
Niles Paul: Tight End
Niles Paul has the same jersey digits as Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. Redskins.com
At 6'1", 235 pounds, Niles Paul is what most coaches call a "tweener." He's a bit too heavy to be a wide receiver and doesn't look like your average tight end. But he better get used to it, because that's where he is going to earn his paycheck
With 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, the Redskins are hoping Paul can be a mismatch for linebackers trying to cover him. The coaching staff (and some members of the media) also believe he has the passion and competitiveness Washington needs to challenge others in a fight.
During a radio interview with ESPN980, head coach Mike Shanahan shocked Redskins fans when he compared Paul to "tweener" Shannon Sharpe, who's now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (click on May 16 to listen).
Here's an excerpt:
I hate to compare anyone to a Hall of Fame player, but Shannon Sharpe came into Denver exactly the same height and about five pounds less than Paul weighs. He was a receiver out of Savannah State, and we moved him over to the tight end position.
According to Redskins101.com, Sharpe had 22 receptions for 322 yards (as a tight end) in his second season. But by 1993 he blew up, with 81 catches for 995 yards and nine touchdowns. From that point on, he had two 1,000-yard seasons and never caught less than 64 balls in a full season.
"Niles’ got the mind set to be an excellent player," said Shanahan (per Redskins101)."I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the transition very easily."
Paul's versatility also gives Shanahan the option of moving him around on offense.
He could actually move to the full back position as well. Sometimes you’ll take that tight end on the line of scrimmage, you can motion him back in the backfield, and it gives you a number of things to be able to do offensively that you haven’t been able to do in the past.
During training camp last week, Chris Cooley took snaps at the fullback position, so he may share those duties with Paul. But in a radio interview with ESPN980, Niles said the competition with Washington's top two tight ends has been a friendly one (click on June 13 to listen).
"I’ve always been a guy who, wherever they put me, I’m going to play as hard as I can to the best of my ability," Paul said (perFanFeedr.com). "I feel there’s a lot of room for me to grow, and there’s some potential I have yet to show.”
Let's hope Paul's potential leads to Shannon Sharpe-like success in Washington.
Jarvis Jenkins: Defensive End
Jenkins' knee injury was a trying experience for the young man. Washington Times
Remember when Redskins defensive end Jarvis Jenkins was escorted to the locker room after injuring his right knee in a preseason game last year versus the Baltimore Ravens?
After a spectacular collegiate career at Clemson, Jenkins was looking forward to being a difference-maker in Washington's 3-4 defense. Then it happened. The knee suddenly gave out and all of his hopes and dreams for his rookie year vanished, in a blink of an eye.
Tight end Chris Cooley also had a bad feeling about it and following an MRI, Jenkins greatest fear was confirmed. It was an ACL tear that would end his season, before it had a chance to begin.
“It’s hard, especially for a young guy that was making a lot of plays, really stepping up his game, learning to be a real integral part of this defense," Lorenzo Alexander was quoted as saying by Steve Whyno of the The Washington Times. "You just hope for the best and a fast recovery.”
Rehabilitation is a grind for any athlete, but it was especially challenging for Jenkins, who wanted so badly to be on the field in 2011.
But now that it's over, a news season awaits, and so does a chance at redemption.
“My dad was always telling me adversity makes a person stronger," Jenkins told the Associated Press (per The Washington Post).
"I rehabbed, got it real healthy so I’ll never get an injury again," Jenkins added. "I most definitely feel like a rookie. I haven’t played a regular season game yet. I haven’t hit nobody, had no real physical contact in a year so I’m anxious to get out there and put them pads on.”
And the Redskins are anxious too, to see how dominating the defensive sleeper can be.
"Any time someone comes off an ACL, you’re always hoping there’s no setback," said Mike Shanahan. "Thus far there has been no setback. He’s looked very impressive.”
Alfred Morris: Running Back
Former NFL coach Fred O'Connor recently compared Morris to three Hall of Famers. YouTube
Redskins rookie runner Alfred Morris may be small in stature, but the sixth-round pick packs a powerful punch.
Just take a listen to what legendary college coach Howard Schnellenberger says about him. Morris reminds Schnellenberger of former Miami Dolphins star Larry Czonka, who he coached in the early 1970's as offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.
And then there's Fred O'Connor, who once served as an interim head coach for the San Francisco 49ers. O'Connor used Morris' name in a sentence that includes Hall of Fame running backs O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton and John Riggins.
O'Connor knows great runners when he sees them because he was the position coach for The Juice, Sweetness and Riggo. All three of their busts have joined Czonka's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
According to PNJ.com, Morris has made a believer out of Mike Shanahan, who ribbed the rookie after Alfred claimed he was a running back and not a fullback. When Shanny said he needed a fullback, Morris quickly changed his mind and said "I'll do it for you. I promise, I got you."
That kind of character fits the M.O. that Shanahan wants from his Redskins. He also likes the way Morris gobbles up yards on the ground.
"I liked his running style," Shanahan said, via CBSSports.com. "He has the ability to make people miss. He has great lateral quickness, and he can cut on a dime."
Look for Morris to pitch in at fullback and on special teams. He'll also provide sleeper depth behind injury-prone backs Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower. All three got hurt last year, and if it happens again, Morris will have his chance to be a halfback after all.
Tyler Polumbus: Right Tackle
Polumbus hosted a camp for children with developmental disabilities. YouTube
Denver native Tyler Polumbus is a travelin' man. As an undrafted free agent in 2008, he caught the attention of his hometown Broncos and started eight games in two years.
Upon his release by Denver 2010, Polumbus was picked up by Detroit, but abruptly traded six days later.
He landed in Seattle, but life quickly grew dreary in the rainy city. After initially replacing an injured Russell Okung for a pair of games, Tyler played in just three more and was released in 2011. The Redskins picked him up from waivers last November, and he started four games for Washington as emergency fill-in.
Now, Polumbus has a real chance to start the entire preseason for the Redskins. He can thank Jammal Brown's nagging hip problem for that, but Tyler hopes he can make an impression that will keep him from being expendable.
"I have no idea what’s going on with Jammal," said Polumbus, per CSNwashington.com.
“As of right now, I’m just going out here and doing the best I can and making sure there’s no lost production.”
At 6'8", 305, Polumbus has a height advantage over every Redskin, but he has the "quick and amble" feet that Mike Shanahan looks for in his linemen.
"He’s very sharp," said Shanahan, per CSN. "He’s a good athlete and I thought, when he did play last year, he played well.”
And writer Tarik El-Bashir points to another advantage for the 27-year-old.
"[Tyler] played for Shanahan as a rookie in Denver in 2008 and is comfortable with his players lining up on either side of him."
Therefore, he is a step ahead of some other hopefuls, who are unfamiliar with Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme.
“My only goal is to come out every day and become a better player,' said Polumbus, via The Washington Post. "Hopefully, the results on the field will show that."
Aldrick Robinson: Wide Receiver
Robinson's highlight reel from college is a real eye-opener. YouTube
According to Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, competition is fierce among the team's receiving corps, which may end up being six or seven deep when all is said and done.
"Each year, it kind of changes," said Shanahan, via Zac Boyer of Fredericksburg.com. “Sometimes it may be a little bit higher at one position than the other, based on who you think the top 53 are and based on your practice squad of eight people.”
Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan are sure-fire bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves two slots open for five hopefuls (plus three undrafted free agents). Some of them will get reps in the first two preseason games. Some of them will not.
The favorites coming into offseason training were Anthony Armstrong and Brandon Banks. Armstrong recently hurt his shoulder, and Banks got caught off guard when coach Mike Shanahan informed him that he had to make the team as a receiver and not just a kick and punt returner.
If that's not a red flag, I don't know what is. So don't be surprised if Banks gets the hook if he doesn't produce early in the preseason.
So, that brings us to a former track standout named Aldrick Robinson, who just may pick up the baton, if Banks drops it.
According to WUSA-TV, Robinson has put in the extra time and effort necessary to get noticed.
"Robinson professed his work with quarterback Robert Griffin III in Waco (Texas) has helped him tremendously at the start of camp."
Robinson has also strengthened his resume at camp, with a couple of touchdown catches and some punt return assignments with Banks and Terrance Austin.
"There's so much competition out here,' said Aldrick, per the Post. "But that's what you want. You want depth at every position. That makes our team better."
And with that kind of attitude and versatility, this writer believes Robinson can win the last available receiver spot.
In my opinion, Aldrick has better playmaking ability than Austin (in a DeSean Jackson sort of way). He also has a leg up on recent signee Dezmon Briscoe because Aldrick has studied the Redskins' playbook for a full year. Robinson spent 15 games on the practice squad in 2011, per Fredericksburg.com.
That leaves Banks as Robinson's biggest competition. If Aldrick can outplay him in the passing game and Brandon drops one too many, the kid's dream may become reality.
Joe Versage is a NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage