Burning Questions for Redskins Training Camp
What started out as an ugly nine-game stretch for Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins last season suddenly turned around following the bye week.
Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon propelled the Redskins to finish the season on a seven-game win-streak on their way to being crowned division champs.
While the team and coaches set out this season looking to repeat and then some, questions still linger.
Here's a look at some of the biggest ones as the Redskins open camp in Richmond.
Will Alfred Morris Repeat?
A popular question surrounding the 2013 Redskins appears to be the anticipated production from second-year running back Alfred Morris.
After being drafted by head coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Morris was the definition of a no-name camp body.
But 1,613 yards and a conference-best 13 rushing touchdowns later, Morris is a household name for both football fans and fantasy team owners.
The obsession, however, regarding Morris' output and whether or not he can duplicate his rookie season in 2013 seems a bit much.
For Redskins fans, the better outcome would be less carries for the 218-pound power back.
If Morris can smash another 1,600 yards this season, great—but not at the cost of another 335 carries. The Redskins added two backs in the draft in Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison to help lighten the load, and we're all still hopeful that Roy Helu Jr. returns healthy.
How Bad Is Adam Carriker's Setback?
Although defensive ends in the 3-4 scheme rarely receive much attention, there's no denying Adam Carriker's contribution to the Redskins defense.
After going down early in Week 2 with a torn quadriceps tendon, Carriker reportedly suffered a setback in his recovery according to head coach Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan refused to give much detail on the recovery hiccup, but he did mention it occurred toward the end of last season via Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Washington.
"I could tell you, but I don’t want get into it," Shanahan told reporters. "I’m still hoping he will be ready."
Carriker is arguably the team's best pass-rushing end, and he seemed to find a groove during the 2011 season when he registered a career-best 5.5 sacks.
Without a timetable on Carriker's return, all eyes shift to Jarvis Jenkins and his development heading into his third season.
If Carriker's health remains uncertain, so could a secure roster spot.
Is Fred Davis Ready to Go?
When Fred Davis went down last season with a blown Achilles tendon, there were plenty of fans who predicted a grim outcome for the 27-year-old tight end's football future—myself included.
Not only are Achilles injuries known for being one of the toughest rehabs, but Davis was also on a one-year franchise tag. The team wanted to make sure he could behave himself (see: drug suspension) before dishing out a big contract.
Following that injury, the Redskins re-signed Davis for a bargain price after the market for his services showed nearly flat. One year removed from a torn Achilles isn't to be taken lightly.
So far, so good.
Davis appeared on NFL Network's NFL AM early last month, talking about his rehab, progress and cutting. He said the following via Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
Right now, I'm in the training process, still rehabbing. I'm doing a lot more running though, a lot more drills, doing some route-running, throwing with Robert (Griffin III), with the other guys who have been hurt on injured reserve. Other than that, I'm just going to probably be ready in a couple more weeks to get ready to be active so I feel pretty good.
Entering another one-year type of show-me deal, Davis knows what kind of work he has cut out for him not only in rehab, but also in camp. The team re-signed backup Logan Paulsen and drafted Jordan Reed.
Thankfully, Davis has the right mindset.
"The key with the Achilles is you just have to sit and wait," Davis added. "It's a sitting game, it's a mental game, really, more mental than anything."
All in for Week 1?
Sure. Why not?
The latest report according to ESPN insider Adam Schefter is that Robert Griffin III will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
In the meantime, the Redskins can fill the vacant roster spot while Griffin continues to rehab, and he can then be added back to the roster whenever the team so chooses.
But have no fear. Even if he does open on the PUP list, there's no reason to doubt that Griffin is all in and prepared to start the season on time.
The real question surrounding Griffin will be how the Redskins treat him once he makes his way back on the field.
"My biggest fear is that I roll an ankle and they pull me out of the game," Griffin told reporters during OTAs earlier this summer (via ESPN). "That's something that I have to deal with for now on."
Is This Leonard Hankerson's Year?
We fans would like to think so.
Leonard Hankerson showed flashes during his sophomore season last year, hauling in 38 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns after returning from a hip injury suffered late in his rookie season.
But for every flash, Hankerson seemed to counter with a smudge. Whether it was a lack of awareness, alligator arms or a lack of reliability, the negative seems to last in our memory more so than the positive.
Entering his third season, Hankerson has a tough camp ahead. Although coaches aren't about to throw in the towel on the 24-year-old, 6'2" receiver, he'll attract plenty of attention in hopes that he can put it all together and break out in 2013.
Can We See a Full Year from Brian Orakpo?
Entering the final year of his contract, Brian Orakpo plays a significant role in the Redskins' overall success this season.
Fans were able to get a taste of what an Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan tandem could look like in 2011. But just two games into last season, Orakpo suffered torn pectoral muscles and missed the rest of the year.
When healthy, Orakpo has the potential to be dominant. He has all the talent and ability to be an elite pass-rusher, but has yet to fully lay it out on the field. Much of which can be blamed on injury.
I'm sure the Redskins would like to keep Orakpo in Washington for the long term, but they need to be able to trust his durability. Can they count on him for 16 games a season?
"I worked extremely hard this offseason and Defensive Player of the Year is very obtainable," Orakpo told reporters (via USA Today Sports).
Well he seems to have the right mindset anyway.
Should We Count on Roy Helu Jr.?
As you can tell by now, injuries and overall health are going to play a huge role in how the Redskins shape up this summer.
And running back Roy Helu Jr. is another name on the list of questionable durability heading into the season.
After the Redskins selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Helu Jr. led the team in rushing and displayed his versatility by way of explosiveness, pass catching and pass protection.
But injuries to his lower leg and foot landed Helu on IR last season, while new rookie Alfred Morris rushed for more than 1,600 yards and stole headlines.
If healthy, Helu is a great combo back alongside Morris, bringing all the skills you look for in a third-down guy.
But there's a reason the Redskins drafted two running backs in last April's draft.
Chris Thompson was a guy high on Shanahan's board, and Jawan Jamison may have more to offer than people think.
Ideally, fans and coaches should prefer a healthy Helu Jr. backing up Morris, while the game-breaking Thompson is used creatively throughout the offense.
Which Rookie Starts in the Secondary?
The Redskins added three new guys to the secondary last April when they drafted cornerback David Amerson (second round) and safeties Phillip Thomas (fourth round) and Bacarri Rambo (sixth round).
Because the cornerback position seems solidified with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson as starters, that leaves safety as a position open to competition.
Assuming that Brandon Meriweather starts the season, that leaves a battle between veteran Reed Doughty and the two rookies.
The team needed to add playmakers in the draft, especially on defense. Both Thomas and Rambo are ball hawks, equipped with an alertness meter for turnovers. They create them, they counter on them and they make opposing offenses pay.
Not to count out Doughty, but both Thomas and Rambo bring more ball skills and better coverage. One of them should be the guy starting alongside Meriweather, assuming they have a decent camp and can pick up the scheme rather quickly.
My early lean is Rambo. Although his draft stock may have slid, it had nothing to do with talent. He has a nose for the football and he can play an effective single-high.
Is There Room for Four Tight Ends?
Since Shanahan took over in Washington three years ago, he's managed to assemble a decent tight end group, with Fred Davis being the lone carry-over from the previous regime.
Davis is returning from an ugly Achilles tear suffered last season, but rehab appears to be pointed in the right direction. He's the assumed starter.
Logan Paulsen was re-signed over the summer and he'll remain the worker bee. He's a tough guy with good size and the willingness to do everything he's asked—from blocking, to catching critical third-down balls.
Niles Paul enters his third NFL season, his second at his new position. Although we shouldn't expect any sort of breakout at this point, Paul is a tough bully-type on the field and he's a natural receiver. Once his technique is down and the green wears off, Paul has a shot at being a nice piece on offense.
Jordan Reed was added via the draft last April after the Redskins saw him hanging around in the third round and believed the juice was well worth the squeeze.
Reed is a natural pass-catcher with killer athleticism and good field vision. He needs tons of work in terms of blocking, but the Redskins have plans of using him as a hybrid.
The thought of keeping four tight ends is exciting. The league is largely about matchups and how the offense attempts to keep the defense on their toes. With potentially four guys to create coverage mismatches, and Robert Griffin III dropping back to pass, this offense in Washington continues to bud.
Who Starts at Right Tackle?
It's destined to be the best training camp battle this season, as the right tackle spot should be up for grabs amongst at least four able-bodied (we think) linemen.
Tyler Polumbus started a majority of the games last season, but ranked 76 out of 80 tackles in the league in terms of pass protection according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
With Robert Griffin III returning from a scary knee injury, there should be just as much attention on the guys set to protect him as the knee and recovery itself.
Hopefully challenging Polumbus for the starting spot are second-year man Tom Compton and veteran free agent additions Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos.
Personally, I like Compton for the starting spot, and Polumbus to take over duties as a swing tackle.
My gut, however, says that Polumbus is the starter at right tackle come Week 1.