Washington Redskins: 3 Role Players Who Must Play Huge in Week 1

Colin KennedyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2012

Washington Redskins: 3 Role Players Who Must Play Huge in Week 1

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    Heading into Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, there is little question as to where Redskins fans will be directing their focus on Sunday afternoon.

    And it’s not Home Depot—the kitchen sink can wait.

    Robert Griffin III is set to make his regular season debut for the Burgundy and Gold, marking the beginning of a new era in Washington. As perhaps the most highly anticipated athlete in recent D.C. sports history, he will be under the microscope for each and every snap in New Orleans.

    But one man can only do so much.

    Despite the overwhelming spotlight hovering around the Redskins' rookie quarterback, the objective for the team hasn’t changed. A brilliant performance from Griffin would be nice, but a win would be better.

    Sure, the experts will engross themselves in RGIII’s mechanics. The analysts will break down every frame of film on the Heisman Trophy winner twice.

    But in order for the Redskins to trump a team like the Saints, they will undoubtedly need a collective effort.

    On one side, it will be interesting to see how firmly Griffin commands the offense. The fluidity of the play-calling and execution of the game plan will both be worth noting in the rookie's first game under center.

    Meanwhile, the defense will be tasked with containing the NFL’s single-season passing leader from a year ago.

    Drew Brees may have lost his coach and friend in Sean Payton for the year, but he hasn’t forgotten how to throw a football.

    Certain expectations are carried with the household names like Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher, and stellar play from either wouldn’t be surprising.

    So it is the smaller names that will be essential to success in New Orleans. The little details, which commonly go overlooked, could dictate the outcome in Griffin’s debut.

    He may be called Superman, but RGIII can’t break the will of the Saints alone.

    Here are a few guys that will need to step up to help him out in Week 1.

Josh Morgan

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    The Redskins spent most of their resources this offseason upgrading the offensive weapons for their incoming franchise quarterback.

    A position that lacked production in 2011 saw vast improvement just one hour into the free-agency period when Washington locked up wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan for a combined $54.5 million.

    Now, the newcomers must prove their worth.

    The Griffin-Garcon combination showed flashes of brilliance in limited action this preseason as the former Colt distinguished himself as Washington's clear No. 1 option. 

    But the more important pass-catcher could be Morgan in the early going. 

    Garcon will likely attract most of the attention from opposing defenses. His combination of size and speed is complemented by above-average route-running abilities and soft hands.

    No wonder he became a fan favorite in Indianapolis

    So with the attention directed toward Garcon, it is critical that the Redskins present another legitimate option for Griffin to exploit. A one-dimensional passing game is something that Washington must avoid with a rookie quarterback in an effort to remain unpredictable.

    Morgan should offer the perfect target. 

    The sizable wideout from San Francisco recorded nine catches for 99 yards and a touchdown in limited preseason action this year. His recent emergence as the starter opposite Garcon indicates improvement from the fifth-year player out of Virginia Tech.

    A promising start to the 2011 season was cut short when Morgan broke a bone in his right leg. But good health should mean good things for the receiver in Washington. 

    Uncertainty in the Redskins' running game could mean more touches for the receivers in Week 1.

    Garcon and Fred Davis are going to get their targets, but if Josh Morgan can step up and get open for RGIII, it could be a long day for the Saints secondary. 

Linebacking Corps/Safety Play

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    Perhaps the tallest task (to be taken quite literally) for the Redskins on Sunday will be the containment of Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. 

    For the league's most powerful offense, Graham presents the Saints with their most reliable end-zone threat. The tight end had a breakout year in 2011 with 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. If it weren't for Rob Gronkowski in New England, we could be talking about one of the greatest seasons ever at the position. 

    Standing at 6'7", the former collegiate basketball player played only one year of football before getting drafted by New Orleans in 2010. Now he represents one of the best pure athletes the game has seen in some time.

    It might be unrealistic to try to shut down Graham entirely. The University of Miami product caught at least four balls in each of the Saints' 16 games last season. 

    So for the Redskins, an effort to minimize the damage will be key. 

    In the 3-4 scheme, Washington's linebackers could often be forced to cover the wide receiver in a lineman's body. But where guys like Brian Orakpo match Graham in size, they fall short in speed and pass-covering ability. 

    The other group responsible for containing the tight end will be the safeties, and when considering last season's small sample size, the results don't look too promising. 

    Graham was able to find success no matter who covered him in 2011. 

    He can outrun the linebackers and out-man the safeties. 

    His sheer size, speed and strength presents a combination of assets that very few possess not only in the NFL, but in the entire world.

    A stingy Redskins defense that finished in the NFC's top five in terms of yards per game a year ago will be forced to double-cover Graham at times, which could leave open field for guys like Darren Sproles and Marques Colston. 

    But in order for Washington to have a chance on Sunday, the Redskins linebackers and safeties will need to have a stellar performance any way you look at it. 

Brandon Banks

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    Brandon Banks made the Redskins' 53-man roster by the skin of his teeth. 

    Months after Mike Shanahan declared that the 5'6" return specialist would have to make the team as a wide receiver, it appears the head coach has eaten his words.

    Brandon Banks isn't on this team to catch balls. 

    His unimpressive preseason performance led many to believe Banks was on his way out of Washington. But a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Bears in Week 3 may have secured his roster-spot for the time being. 

    Now the speedy third-year player could play an instrumental role for the Redskins in Week 1. In a matchup of strength vs. strength (Saints offense vs. Redskins defense), special teams could dictate the outcome.

    An area many often overlook as a valuable asset, the return game should prove critical in New Orleans. 

    Field position for Washington will be huge with a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut, and a short field could be extremely advantageous.

    So Brandon Banks needs to come up big whenever the Redskins do find a way of stopping Brees and his league-leading passing attack. 

    Touchdowns aren't expected, and any production at the WR position is an added bonus, but a few lengthy returns could help Washington pull off the upset—and perhaps on a more personal level, keep Brandon Banks employed.