Breaking Down Washington Redskins Biggest Training Camp Battles
Although probably not yet fully adopted and understood by football fans everywhere, the Washington Redskins have changed quite a bit since Mike Shanahan took over in 2010.
Despite a harsh cap penalty from a year ago, the Redskins made bold moves in the draft, went on a seven-game win-streak to end the season and wound up NFC East division champs.
Faced with another ridiculous cap penalty this summer, the Redskins were still able to retain those they'd like to, hanging on to every desirable starter from last season.
Then came April, and even without a first-round selection, the team addressed areas of need, while also adding valuable potential with minimal risk and an opportunity to see rookies contribute early on.
Shanahan's complete three-year roster overhaul has resulted in what's sure to be an intriguing training camp -- crowded with talent and entertaining roster battles.
Not exactly a bad problem to have.
Here's a breakdown of the most important position battles facing Washington to end the summer.
1. Right Tackle
Candidates: Tom Compton, Tyler Polumbus, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos
It's often said that a team's offensive line is the key ingredient to being successful. Keep the quarterback clean, keep him healthy and your team has a better shot of winning.
Hard to argue that.
But when the Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III, they didn't only obtain a Pro Bowl-caliber signal-caller. They also upgraded their offensive line. Griffin's ability to buy time, scramble, shake, juke, run, etc. naturally helps blockers up front do their jobs.
But the offensive line wasn't a stone front all the way across.
The Redskins only allowed 32 sacks last season -- good for eighth-best in the league. Of those 32 sacks, Griffin took 30 of them.
The offensive lineman responsible for nearly a quarter of them, according to Pro Football Focus, was Tyler Polumbus, lined up at the right tackle spot.
In addition to his seven sacks allowed, Polumbus gave up four hits on the quarterback, along with 42 hurries -- fourth-worst of any tackle on either side who started at least 12 games last season.
Add the team's weakness at right tackle to the fact that Griffin is returning (in unbelievable time) after suffering a gruesome knee injury last season, and there's plenty of reason for competition at the position.
Coaches seem to like Polumbus, and he performed much better as a run-blocker than he did in pass-pro. It'd be ignorant to write him off as the starter already.
But the most intriguing name is Tom Compton.
Compton was a sixth-round draft pick last year out of South Dakota. He was cut in late August as part of the team's final releases, but winded up on the Redskins' practice squad after going unclaimed on waivers. Come December, Compton was promoted to the 53-man roster.
Compton has the makeup of an NFL-level tackle. He's 6'5", 308 pounds with good athleticism and a well-decorated college resume that includes 2011 GWC Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior.
Also battling will be free agent additions Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood.
Both guys are veteran linemen with starting experience, as Trueblood started as recently as last season in Tampa Bay before being benched for poor performance.
Pashos, on the other hand, sat out all of last season recovering from a nasty foot injury. He had previously started for the Cleveland Browns in 2011.
My hope is that Compton shows well enough during camp and gives coaches the confidence that he is capable of blocking the right side of the team's most prized asset.
My gut, however, leans towards Polumbus retaining his starting job for the sake of continuity across the trench and Shanahan's apparent fancy for the six-year veteran.
Candidates: Reed Doughty, Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas, DeJon Gomes
With Brandon Meriweather expected to start, the remaining safety position should be up for grabs between veteran Reed Doughty, third-year man DeJon Gomes and two rookies in Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo.
The important thing to keep in mind regarding the battle at safety is how the Redskins secondary was burnt last season, especially in the deeper half (see: Victor Cruz, Week 7).
As a result, the Redskins went after two safeties in the draft, both of which display great ball skills and playmaking ability.
The upperhand would seemingly go to the rookies.
Reed Doughty, although valuable as a backup and on special teams, doesn't contribute much in terms of coverage. He's a better in-box safety that can shine with solid tackling.
Thomas, on the other hand, led the nation in interceptions as a senior last season, and tied for the national lead with three pick-six touchdowns and nine total takeaways on his way to being named a Jim Thorpe Award finalist.
Rambo, meanwhile, hauled in 16 interceptions during his four-year career at Georgia, tying the school record for career picks and being named First-Team All-American as a junior in 2011 when he recorded eight interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Bringing in guys that have a natural nose for the football was a part of the plan. Expect good competition at the position, with a slight (personal) lean for Rambo winning the job.
3. Wide Receiver
Candidates: Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson, Dezmon Briscoe, Donte Stallworth, Lance Lewis, Devery Henderson
Easily the most crowded of battles, the wide receiver position falls off a bit after names like Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan and Santana Moss.
What makes this particular position battle so intriguing is the makeup of veterans, young guys and no-namers fighting for a spot.
For veterans, you have guys like Moss, Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson.
Moss is arguably the most reliable set of hands on the team, so expect him to stick. But Stallworth and Henderson are seasoned receivers that bring an intelligent approach and reliable route-running to the field. They're obviously decent players, having stuck around the league for a number of years, but their roster spots at 30+ years of age are far from guaranteed.
You have young guys like Leonard Hankerson and Dezmon Briscoe that are entering their third and fourth years, respectively, and have a lot to prove in terms of how coaches envision their potential and future commitment to an offense.
And finally, you have relative unknowns such as Aldrick Robinson and Lance Lewis, who have spent time around the organization, but haven't yet established themselves as legitimate threats.
From a reliability standpoint, you tend to lean towards the old-timers. Henderson spent time in a high-powered, pass-happy offense in New Orleans, so his understanding of the game is probably right where offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would like it to be.
Stallworth has bounced around from team to team over the course of his career, but a brief stint in Washington back in 2011 gave coaches a chance to see what he could bring to the table (including a clutch touchdown catch against Dallas at FedEx).
But when you think about the youth on this Redskins team and the building blocks moving forward, it's hard not to take into account a big-bodied guy like Dezmon Briscoe and Leonard Hankerson (both standing about 6'2").
Alongside Moss, expect Hankerson to stick, but with coaches having a watchful eye on his development and progress. This is a big year for Hank.
Next to them, I think the upside of Briscoe, Robinson and Lewis outweighs the experience of Stallworth and Henderson, simply because Robert Griffin III is the type of quarterback that gets the most out of his receivers and makes them better.
4. Running Back
Candidates: Roy Helu Jr., Chris Thompson, Jawan Jamison, Keiland Williams
After watching Alfred Morris destroy opposing defenses as a rookie last season -- rushing for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns -- the starting running back for the Redskins is a position virtually set in stone.
The backup role is where things could get interesting.
When the team drafted Roy Helu Jr. in 2011, he broke out to lead the team in rushing, while also demonstrating his versatility by way of pass-catching and blocking.
An unfortunate injury early last season eventually landed Helu on IR, and the outlook on his return has seemed shaky ever since.
Most recent reports, however, indicate that Helu is back to full strength and ready to compete.
“It was just good to be back with the guys and competing against one another, against the defense and executing plays,” Helu said (via Mike Jones of the Washington Post). “It was fun. The joy of being healthier and competing was pretty cool...It’s been definitely a long time feeling this healthy.”
If Helu is healthy, he's a great complement to Morris and his running style. He also has the skills desired in a consistent third-down back.
But the Redskins didn't use two draft picks on running backs last April without reason.
If you want to chalk up Jawan Jamison as the typical late-round Shanahan flyer, it'd be hard to argue. But digging a bit deeper and watching Jamison on tape could leave you thinking a bit different.
Also standing out on tape, but with much more flash and oh-wow effect is fifth-round pick Chris Thompson.
Despite a string of injuries that limited his college career, including a broken back and torn ACL, Thompson was high on the Redskins' draft board due to his explosiveness and homerun ability.
According to Zac Boyer of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Shanahan had a first- or second-round grade on Thompson, and believed the Florida State running back would've been taken there if not for the torn ligament in his knee.
While it'd be hard to put such a grade on a prospect with such a rough history of injuries, there's no denying Thompson's athletic ability. He has incredible acceleration, a natural elusiveness and a skill set that provides a little bit of everything.
Perhaps standing near the back of the classroom, but certainly not forgotten, is four-year veteran Keiland Williams.
Originally signed by the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Williams stuck around for a year, spent a short time in Detroit and was then re-signed by Washington near the middle of last season.
Unlike Thompson -- or even Jamison -- Williams lacks flash or jaw-drop athleticism. He's not insanely fast, nor does he have the best field vision. But he's a worker and he does what's asked of him. He's a coach's kind of player.
Not to mention, Williams contributes on special teams.
Given Alfred Morris and the direction of the offense, I see the Redskins moving forward with Thompson and Helu; Jawan Jamison with an outside chance of making the roster.
The offense in Washington shines by way of playmakers -- explosive athletes that present a homerun threat. And in the case of running backs, Helu and Thompson are the best fits.
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