The rookies under the spotlight for the Washington Redskins during OTAs will be the team's top two picks, Trent Murphy and Morgan Moses. The pair have key roles to fill in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
There will also be plenty of focus on a confident sixth-round choice who the team is counting on to add greater versatility to its running game. Here are the best storylines to watch involving the rookies during OTAs:
Trent Murphy Refining His Technique As a Pass-Rusher
Top pick Murphy wasn't selected just to provide depth behind outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The former Stanford man can also be a useful weapon in the sub-package defense.
But that will depend on Murphy's ability to acclimatize himself to beating pro blockers. That means refining his overall technique and expanding his repertoire of pass-rush moves.
It's a process that has already started in earnest. Murphy spent significant time at the team's rookie minicamp working closely with outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
The coach and second-round pick — Washington’s first this year — worked on technique on hand placement, and how to fend off blockers. As Baker demonstrated on Murphy, the 2013 NCAA sacks leader, nodded his head and then carried out the technique himself.
Satisfied, Baker praised the rookie and walked off. Murphy filed the tips away in his memory bank along with the other lessons he had learned, and re-learned this weekend. The one-on-one attention continued throughout the afternoon session. Following a series of plays when the first unit made way for the second unit, Baker met Murphy as he returned to the sideline, and shared more instructions.
Murphy led college football in sacks last season with 15. But a lot of his success depended on raw power and relentless energy.
While those qualities will always take a pass-rusher a long way, Murphy will need more at the pro level. Baker is certainly a good tutor for the first-year pressure specialist.
He's been something of a pass-rush guru at the assistant level. A previous stop with Washington's bitter rival, the Dallas Cowboys, should provide encouragement about this season's Redskins defense.
During Baker's time at Valley Ranch, he helped tutor both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The pair were productive rush ends in then-coordinator Rob Ryan's version of the 3-4.
Ryan has always favored a very aggressive, blitz-happy system that gives players more license to rush the passer from various angles. That's significant because Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is planning to use more of those same concepts, per ESPN.com Redskins beat reporter John Keim: "But the plan and thought is to be more aggressive with their primary rush -- using more one-gap system rather than the two-gap in which the linemen are just there to hold up the blockers."
Baker has a key role to play in that process. Haslett has already indicated he plans to unleash his outside linebackers more often this season, according to another report from Keim.
That means a defense that registered a mere 36 sacks in 2013, per NFL.com, needs Murphy to hit the ground running as soon as the new season begins. Having a third quality outside pass-rusher will improve Washington's ability to get after quarterbacks.
That's a major offseason priority, according to CSN Washington reporter Rich Tandler:
This defense will fail or succeed based on how well the front seven can rush the passer. We saw outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, who really is the pass rush coach, giving Trent Murphy a lot of pointers on techniques during the rookie minicamp. Baker will be working with all of the outside linebackers once OTAs begin Tuesday. They’ll work on putting techniques and schemes into action on the field and start the process of translating those into pressure on opposing quarterbacks when they start playing games.
Keep a close eye on Murphy's transition to a scheme that is finally becoming more expansive.
Lache Seastrunk's Change-of-Pace Skills
The Washington ground attack needs a viable change-of-pace option. That's why the team used a sixth-round pick on ex-Baylor speedster Lache Seastrunk.
The pressure is now on Seastrunk to prove he can be a regular complement to lead back Alfred Morris. While Morris is a physical, downhill runner, he doesn't possess the speed to really stretch the field.
That game-breaking threat is what new head coach Jay Gruden is hoping Seastrunk will provide, per John Keim:
The Redskins hope Seastrunk gives them a player capable of scoring at any time after rushing for 2,189 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons at Baylor. But there are questions about his durability. All of this was said about Chris Thompson the previous summer. But Thompson had consecutive seasons of bad injuries (back and knee) and is smaller (by two inches and 18 pounds). The Redskins, for now, do not view Seastrunk as a full-time player -- not with Alfred Morris on the roster. They’re not even counting on Seastrunk as a third-down back with so much to learn in that area.
That last line is significant, since the team lacks a credible backfield playmaker on third downs. In his post-draft assessment, Gruden expressed concerns about Seastrunk's ability to handle third-down chores, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
If there’s a reach about him, it’s projecting him to be a third down guy who’s catching the ball. What we’re envisioning for him early on is not so much a third down guy but a guy that can spell [running back] Alfred [Morris] and hit the home run. He’s got the breakaway speed and hopefully in time he will be able develop into a pass blocker/receiver.
If Seastrunk adds true speed to the rushing rotation, an already dominant running game will be even better. Yet considering Morris is limited as a receiver, it's still surprising the team opted for a rookie back who has had trouble catching passes.
NFL.com writer Marc Sessler noted that Seastrunk "dropped an outrageous 10 of 19 passes in two seasons with the Bears."
Seastrunk's development into a player who, at the very least, can split some carries with Morris will be fascinating to watch.
Will Morgan Moses Be Starter-Ready?
Gruden needs Morgan Moses to start as a rookie. The hulking third-round pick is being counted on to add some mass and physical dominance to an offensive line that was woefully short of both in 2013.
The start of that process is getting Moses comfortable at right tackle again. That's where he featured during rookie minicamp, per Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
Moses must show he can supplant veteran Tyler Polumbus. He also has to prove he is as capable in pass protection as he is blocking for the run.
It will also be important for the 6'6", 314-pounder to show solid agility in the team's highly successful outside zone scheme. That's something Gruden highlighted during rookie minicamp, per an Associated Press report, cited by USA Today Sports:
Morgan, he's got a ways to go. He's moving over to right tackle, and just introducing him to the outside zone, the way we want the protections, it's going to take him some time. We're happy with his progress, and he's got a major, major upside with his size.
As this is still essentially a run-first offense, at least it should be, Moses has to prove effective in space. But his ultimate value will be determined by how he improves the protection around quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Washington O-line surrendered 43 sacks in 2013, per statistics via NFL.com. With Trent Williams blossoming on the left, if Moses secures the other side of the pocket, Gruden's offense will be dangerous this season.
So expect Moses' performances to be under intense scrutiny throughout the team's OTAs.
The progress of these rookies can make a vital difference at three significant positions on Gruden's new-look team. If all three make the grade, Washington can spring a few surprises in the new season.