Washington Redskins: Grading the Strength of Every Position Heading into Camp
Whether you're ready or not, football season is upon us, or at least the first hints of the football season. The Washington Redskins open training camp on July 25, and so begin the position battles that will shape the roster and give the first impressions of what this season will bring.
The Redskins sprinted into the playoffs last season with a seven-game winning streak to close out the regular season, and will look to repeat as division champs in 2013.
Before they can do any of that, they must endure training camp, preseason and roster cuts. Just to get an idea of where they stand heading into training camp, here are some grades for the Redskins at each position.
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For all intents and purposes, Robert Griffin III is now, factually, all in for week 1. Though he won't take the field during preseason, he'll get in all the necessary work with the starters on offense, which is more than anyone could have hoped for after he suffered his ACL tear back in January.
A healthy RGIII, playing in what should be an evolved offense to better take advantage of his passing skills, gives the Redskins one of the best rising stars in the NFL.
Even without Griffin during the preseason, the Redskins are just fine giving Kirk Cousins his run of the offense. After finishing off a comeback against the Baltimore Ravens last season, and picking the Cleveland Browns apart, Cousins has seen his name jump into trade discussions even though the 'Skins have no intention of shipping him anywhere anytime soon.
Grade: B - Why so low? It remains to be seen if Griffin is prepared to return from his injury, and you might expect the Redskins to shield him from serious punishment early in the season. It also remains to be seen if Cousins is the real deal, or just another solid journeyman backup in the making.
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The strongest position for the Redskins is their backfield. Alfred Morris was a surprise sensation, finishing second overall in rushing yards with 1,613 behind only the incomparable Adrian Peterson. Morris still has to prove his rookie explosion wasn't a fluke, but he's up to the task, and has the right system to do it in.
What's exciting about the backfield is the battle going on behind Morris, with Roy Helu finally healthy, and rookies Jawan Jamison and Chris Thompson offering excellent versatility.
Helu is a a homerun threat where Morris is more of a grinder, and a finish-forward running back. Neither player goes down particularly easy, but they could both do better to extend runs a bit.
Grade: A+ - What more can be said about Morris? Helu is a wild card, and could see substantial carries if healthy and explosive. Evan Royster may be the odd man out with the presence of Jamison and Thompson, but anything can happen in training camp.
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Darrel Young is among the best fullbacks in the NFL, but his role in Washington's top-ranked rushing attack was overshadowed by rookie sensations Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III.
He could stand to refine his technique a bit, but Young is an excellent battering ram, and does a great job sealing the holes created by Mike Shanahan's blocking scheme.
One of the greatest things about Young is his underrated versatility. He can run and pass block, as well as catch out of the backfield. He caught eight passes for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year, and may see an expanded role in an evolving offense in 2013.
Grade: A - Everyone can improve.
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Under ideal circumstances, the Redskins would be able to start Fred Davis and Jordan Reed as dual tight ends and lay waste to all opposing secondaries. Under current circumstances, the Redskins just need Davis to recover from two shortened seasons and everyone else to step up when called upon.
Reed is an intriguing rookie, but it remains to be seen how the Redskins will utilize him on offense, if they give him a substantial role at all.
Logan Paulsen is an excellent backup to Davis, though he is much more of a blocker than a receiving threat. Niles Paul is a special teamer, and shouldn't be used on offense much this season.
Grade: B - This unit has the chance to be so much better than this grade, but it all depends on Davis having the kind of season he was on the verge of having in 2011. It'd be great to see Davis and Reed on the field at once, but that may be asking too much too soon.
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With a healthy Pierre Garcon and improved performances from Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson, the Redskins could have a formidable receiving corp. Santana Moss could have another surprise year, and provide a boost as the go-to slot receiver.
The problem is, more often than not, things go wrong for the Redskins receivers.
Garcon can be a legitimate No. 1 receiver for the Redskins, if healthy. Moss can be an asset as the slot receiver, if he isn't on his last legs at 34 years of age. Robinson and Hankerson are more potential than true assets at this point, and Morgan has only shown himself to be a solid contributor.
Grade: B - The potential is enough to give this position a high mark, but it would be nice if all the questions were answered during training camp. Garcon should be electric as RGIII's top target, but there is less certainty in the spots after him.
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Will Montgomery is an underrated center if ever there was one, and the Redskins are lucky to have him. He's quick and athletic, as well as being perfect for Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme.
Depth is rarely a concern with the center position, despite being among the most punishing positions at the point of attack.
Kevin Matthews and Tevita Stevens may end up battling it out for a spot on the practice squad, with long snapper Nick Sundberg acting as the de facto backup center behind Montgomery.
Grade: A - Not much to say, Montgomery is excellent, experienced and tailor-made for the zone blocking offense. He's smart and played an integral part in the success the Redskins offensive line enjoyed last season.
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Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester are well-suited for the Mike Shanahan run-heavy offense, and both started every game last season. After missing a lot of time due to injuries in the first four years of his career, Lichtensteiger has become an excellent guard for the Redskins.
In terms of depth, the Redskins are fairly well off, with Josh LeRibeus proving more than up to the task in relief of Lichtensteiger late in the season, while Adam Gettis is still a bit of a project.
Grade: A - Aside from Gettis not having many opportunities to show his improvement, assuming he has improved, the Redskins have some of the best, if not underrated, guards in the NFL. The success of the ground game last season speaks to that.
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Trent Williams made the Pro Bowl in 2012, successfully shutting down some of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He's poised to have an even better 2013 as long as he stays out of the kind of trouble that kept him from participating in the Pro Bowl.
Williams, however, is only one man, and if he goes down, the Redskins won't have a capable tackle on the field.
Tom Compton is supposed to have great potential behind Williams, but no one has really seen it in action. The right tackle position is a mess, with Tyler Polumbus penciled in as the starter. Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood are unimpressive veterans, and Xavier Nixon is a bit of a wild card as an undrafted rookie.
Unless Nixon can make a statement early, the Redskins will have to suffer through Polumbus' awful pass protection.
Grade: C - Williams being an elite left tackle saves this from being a failing grade. Barring a miracle, or a surprise ascension from Nixon, the Redskins are weak at the tackle position. Depth is one thing, but it feels more like throwing bodies at the problem than truly addressing it.
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Most nose tackles not named Vince Wilfork don't get the respect they deserve, and Barry Cofield is a perfect example. He came to the Redskins having never played the position as part of a 3-4 defense, but has developed into a dependable veteran in the middle.
He can eat up space and control running lanes with his smart play, and could be much better with a healthy pass rush behind him.
Chris Neild is back after missing 2012 with an ACL injury, and so is his beard. He is arguably better suited for the nose tackle role than Cofield, but his injury knocked him down the depth chart, behind Chris Baker.
Baker was an excellent presence, particularly in goal line situations, and enters training camp with a slight edge.
Grade: A - It's a dirty job, but the Redskins have a great collection of talent capable of wreaking havoc on running lanes and in the backfield. Three nose tackles is a little much, so expect one of these these three to be cut.
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After suffering a setback in rehab, Adam Carriker's status for the season is in jeopardy, leaving the door wide open for Jarvis Jenkins to be the starter throughout training camp and into the regular season. Jenkins is fully recovered from the ACL injury that erased his promising rookie season, and that makes him scary.
Jenkins will start opposite Stephen Bowen, who has been a quiet but productive presence along the defensive line.
The addition of Darryl Tapp and Phillip Merling, as well as the return of Kedric Golston, give the Redskins ample depth and experience, though it isn't likely to be tested.
Grade: A - Carriker is an asset when he is on the field, but Jenkins is an upgrade in almost every aspect. Bowen is a great veteran with the potential to make plays from a position focused primarily on controlling blockers and occupying space.
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London Fletcher's time in the NFL may be coming to an end, and the Redskins will miss him when the time comes, but for now he is still one of smartest middle linebackers around. Perry Riley is young, hungry and lucky to be playing next to a future Hall of Famer, but he hasn't reached his peak yet.
Riley could play a bigger role on defense with Fletcher working towards retirement, so he may have his best season yet.
Behind Riley and Fletcher is the promising Keenan Robinson, rookie Jeremy Kimbrough, as well as veterans Roddrick Muckelroy and Bryan Kehl. Expect heated competition to make the roster, but Kimbrough may have the edge by virtue of being a promising rookie with a high football IQ.
Grade: B - Fletcher is likely entering his last season in the NFL, but he is still one of the best linebackers in the game. Riley is still working towards realizing his potential, but is still an asset alongside Fletcher.
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I do not envy the offensive linemen who will line up opposite of Brian Orakpo in 2013, because he is a man who will not be denied coming off of an injury and heading into his contract year. Ryan Kerrigan had a lot of near sacks in 2012, and will benefit from Orakpo's vendetta.
Rob Jackson may be suspended for the first four games of the season, but he was great in relief of Orakpo last season with 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and a touchdown.
Rookie Brandon Jenkins will benefit from Jackson's early absence, with the potential to get some spot work spelling Kerrigan and Orakpo as needed.
Grade: A - Orakpo is a man on a mission, and could have a true breakout year with his first double-digit sack season since he was a rookie. Kerrigan might be overshadowed, but he was a half step away from at least 15 sacks last season. Depth is impressive with Jenkins and Jackson.
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Arguably one of the more difficult positions to grade before we've had a chance to see it in action is cornerback. DeAngelo Hall returns as the top corner, but after him, the pickings are slim in terms of dependable players.
Josh Wilson will start the season as the second corner, but he'll get some pressure from rookie David Amerson if he doesn't improve on his back-to-back disappointing seasons.
The Redskins added E.J. Biggers in free agency, and he is a lanky corner with slot experience and good upside. The biggest wild cards at corner are Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford, with the former showing enough promise before his injuries to earn a call back, and the latter doing a ton of film work and talking to Darrell Green during the offseason.
Grade: B - This is a tough position to grade because of the potential to either shock and awe, or fail miserably. Again. Amerson's ball skills are an instant upgrade, even if he only gets on the field as a nickel corner. Depth and youth are plentiful this year, as is the talent.
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It isn't often that a team can upgrade a position of weakness with a sixth-round pick, but the Redskins got a steal in safety Bacarri Rambo. Without a true free safety on the roster ahead of Rambo, it is likely that he'll be the starter for most of the season.
Tanard Jackson has yet to be reinstated, and the only other player capable of at least filling in the position until Rambo is ready is Brandon Meriweather.
Rambo is a ball-hawk, and could be the steal of the draft if all goes well. However, it may come down to the Redskins trusting in him.
Grade: C - Rambo is a huge upgrade over any free safety on the roster last season, but may sit behind Meriweather at least for a few weeks. The lack of depth is a concern, and Meriweather is simply the best available experienced option for the Redskins.
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Brandon Meriweather played all of one half of football last season, struggling through injuries before landing on IR with an ACL tear. If healthy, Meriweather could be an experienced presence with the potential to solidify a position of weakness for the Redskins.
If not healthy, Meriweather could make way for rookie Phillip Thomas, who is a hard-hitting, ball-hawking safety with better size and arguably better instincts than Meriweather.
Reed Doughty is a solid backup, capable of stepping in and doing all the little things right, though he's a liability in pass coverage. If Meriweather can't hack it early, Doughty will get the call, but only until the coaches feel Thomas is ready.
Grade: B - Meriweather's return is a nice boost, if he's healthy, but Thomas will push for the starting job throughout training camp.
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Kai Forbath was the lone bright spot on special teams for most of last season, hitting 17 of his 18 attempts, included a perfect 12-for-12 from 40 yards and beyond. He was joined later in the season by fellow bright spot Richard Crawford, who returned eight punts for 156 yards, averaging 19.5 yards per return.
It was Crawford's 64-yard return against the Baltimore Ravens the all but sealed the deal in the 14-point comeback.
Sav Rocca had an uneven season in 2012, averaging a career-best 43.9 yards per punt, while seeing two of his punts blocked, which is more of a blocking issue than his kicking. He did, however, undergo offseason surgery on his knee, but he has completed rehab and has looked good in offseason workouts.
The biggest issue the Redskins special teams will face in 2013 is the absence of Lorenzo Alexander, who was their ace on return coverage, and the departure of special teams coach Danny Smith.
Grade: C - Aside from Forbath and Crawford, there are too many question marks to rate the special teams any higher.