London Fletcher (right) and Perry Riley will be expected to form the heart of the defense for the entire season.
The Washington Redskins beat the Super Bowl champions last year. They swept the Super Bowl champions the year before that. The addition of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris seemingly brought them two steps closer to their own appearance in the big game, but that shouldn't disguise the fact that the team remains vulnerable.
In 2012, the defense conceded 377.7 yards per game, along with 24.2 points per game. This was good for 28th in the NFL. For a team that finished 10-6, that immediately shows where the weakness lies. However, what it doesn't show is that the defense showed marked improvement over the course of Washington's seven-game win streak to end the season.
Without that step up, it's unlikely the team wins those games.
The additions of David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo strengthened the depth in the secondary—although that's since been affected by the loss of Thomas for the season. Prior to the draft, winning the turnover battle was clearly on the front office's mind, and Rambo and Amerson have both been productive in camp, immediately challenging for starting spots.
Rambo's missed tackle on Chris Johnson can be excused—not many Pro Bowl safeties make that tackle in the open field, let alone rookies—and the former Georgia Bulldog is a film junkie, so he'll learn from it quickly.
Brandon Jenkins, too, was brought in to address depth on the defensive side of the ball. He's also made a good impression since arriving, but his arrival is tempered by another injury, this time to Keenan Robinson. This is Robinson's second pectoral tear in as many seasons, which brings us to Washington's main weakness going into the new season.
It's hypothetical, yet highly likely. It's also completely impossible to plan against.
Despite the additional players brought in, the fact remains that the Redskins are a couple of injuries away from serious regression in 2013-14.
What is Washington's biggest weakness this season?
Brian Orakpo needs to play a full season, or a strong pass rush suddenly looks a little anemic. With Thomas already absent for the year, much rests on Brandon Meriweather's ability to stay healthy. London Fletcher may seem like Wolverine, but the team is still yet to replace him. There is no true every-down back behind Alfred Morris. Another injury to Griffin obviously derails the entire year. If it's his knee again, that derailment continues beyond 12 months.
The continued problem with drug-related suspensions also took down Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins for the opening four games. With Adam Carriker suffering a setback in his injury recovery, much was expected of Jenkins, while Jackson looked impressive last year with Orakpo out. Whether due to carelessness or something more intentional, their absence puts the team under further pressure to start the season.
Returning to protecting Griffin, the performance of the offensive line was an unexpected high point, and they were lucky enough to stay healthy for the majority of the year. Even when Josh LeRibeus came in for Kory Lichtensteiger he looked comfortable in the scheme. This year he's showed up to camp overweight and as a result looks slower and underprepared.
It's dangerous to expect a repeat performance from this unit. The history of the NFL offers no concession to continuity. If the line powers through the year unscathed, the Redskins will consider themselves more lucky than smart. The right tackle position was a problem that went unaddressed in this year's draft, and the front office instead brought in four players with injury flags.
If Chris Thompson, Jordan Reed, Brandon Jenkins and Jawan Jamison all work out, it will again be down to fortune over clairvoyance. No team expects all its draft picks to end up as starters, but most teams also draft healthy players.
All four have a great deal of talent, and it's true that every draft pick carries risk. Since arriving in Washington, Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have drafted with great care and clearly know the direction in which the franchise should be headed.
Even so, the load on Griffin's shoulders remains a heavy one.
The element of surprise no longer remains with the Redskins, so the onus is on Kyle Shanahan to simultaneously protect Griffin and retain the level of success that saw the team feature the No. 1 rushing attack, the No. 5 rushing defense and rank fifth in total offense by the end of the year. That's not to say it can't be done, more that everyone has to play as well—if not better—than last year to avoid a backward step.
Tyler Polumbus needs to improve in pass-protection, and the rest of the line needs to continue opening up running lanes for Morris. Griffin needs to get out of bounds and continue to elicit cheers from the fans with his ability to slide.
By all accounts, his throws have been very sharp indeed since he returned to 11-on-11 drills.
Griffin told The Washington Post that he focused on retaining his arm strength during rehab, along with his mental sharpness. This could, as he attested, solely be down to the fact he had no other choice.
It could also be because he knows his arm is more integral to his success this year.