Early Predictions for Washington Redskins' 2014 Training Camp Battles
As the NFL's post-draft dead period begins, with rosters every so slowly taking shape, room for discussion grows. The Washington Redskins have a full roster for this offseason, and with a new head coach, they're likely to get the most out of the competitive process.
Training camp is a ways away, but the prospective battles are coming into focus even at this point in the offseason.
With rookies, both drafted and undrafted, vying for space on the active roster, veterans fighting for their jobs and free agents carving out roles with their new team, the speculative space is palpable. Training camp will prove an interesting endeavor for the 'Skins this season, as many training camps are following regime changes.
Here are some of the training camp battles already brewing for the Redskins this offseason.
Third Down/Backup Running Back
Alfred Morris is the sort of running back who can churn out 1,000 yards in any system. He is a one-cut runner who always seems to finish forward, keep his legs moving and pick up extra yards.
Morris, however, is not an accomplished receiver and lacks breakaway speed, which is where Roy Helu and rookie Lache Seastrunk come into play.
Helu has been a reliable running back with the ability to catch out of the backfield, but he hasn't found his groove in pass protection.
He has just seven career touchdowns but is invaluable as a change-of-pack back. Seastrunk possesses deceptive speed with the ability to elude or run through first contact.
As a long-term prospect, Seastrunk is an intriguing player, but he needs a lot of coaching in pass protection and being a receiver out of the backfield.
Early Winner: Roy Helu—Helu has the experience to go with a track record of production and development. He has improved in almost every area since his rookie season and offers enough speed with dependable hands to be more than enough relief for Morris.
If any training camp battle is wide open, it is this one. Chris Thompson may be penciled in as the de facto return specialist, but he did very little to define himself as a rookie.
Undrafted rookie Cody Hoffman's best chance to make the active roster would be on special teams. He returned 53 kicks during his career at BYU, including a school-record 36 returns for 879 yards as a sophomore.
Seastrunk doesn't have any special teams experience from his college days, but his breakaway speed and strong running style make him a viable option to return kicks at the very least.
If healthy, cornerback Richard Crawford could be inserted as the punt return specialist with Seastrunk or Hoffman being the kick return specialists.
Andre Roberts, the Redskins third receiver, worked on returns as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals and could see some special teams duties if no better option is found.
Early Winners: Richard Crawford, Punts/Lache Seastrunk, Kicks—Crawford returning punts is a no-brainer. He excelled as a rookie and may have trouble breaking into the secondary rotation coming off of a torn ACL.
Seastrunk isn't polished or coached enough to have a big role on offense, but he could make an immediate impact as a kick returner, giving the Redskins an outlet for his abilities while also improving their abysmal special teams.
Chris Chester, like Tyler Polumbus, should consider his days number as a starter for the Redskins. While he will start the season, and be the starter for the better part of the season, rookie third-round draft pick Spencer Long will be fighting for playing time.
The Redskins see no need to rush Long's development or throw him into the fire too soon, but Chester will have to play much better than he did in 2013, particularly in pass protection.
Long is the long-term solution for the Redskin, or appears to be, but will need to adjust to the speed of the NFL and refine his technique behind the veteran Chester.
Early Winner: Chris Chester—As woeful as Chester was during stretches of last season, it is only a matter of time before he yields to Long. The opening-day starters will be the same, but expect the right side of the line to differ greatly at season's end.
The Redskins finished their draft by selecting Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker in the seventh round. Regardless of draft status or position, by drafting a kicker, the Redskins are expressing displeasure with their current kicker, Kai Forbath.
Forbath is reliable on field goals and extra points, but he lacks leg strength to routinely put the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, forcing Washington's abysmal special teams to cover more kicks than they can or should handle.
Hocker isn't the most accurate kicker but has better leg strength than Forbath. It would solve the problem of kickoff length, which would improve the special teams by not putting them in a position to fail. However, it is sort of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" situation.
Forbath had some injuries, but he has hit 59 of his 60 extra-point attempts and 35 of his 40 field-goal attempts. Not amazing, but infinitely better than Graham Gano, Nick Novak, Billy Cundiff, Shaun Suisham and any of the other kickers who have come and gone in the last several years.
Early Winner: Kai Forbath—Cobra Kai is a solid kicker and should be considered the starter until Hocker proves he is better across the board. It doesn't make sense to replace Forbath after a rocky season, which can be said about most of the Redskins roster from 2013, so he gets the nod until further notice.
Polumbus may be the starter on opening day, but the Redskins drafted Morgan Moses to push and ultimately replace him at right tackle. Polumbus is serviceable, excelling as a run-blocker while failing in pass protection.
To keep Robert Griffin III healthy, Washington needs Moses to push Polumbus beyond what he has shown over the last two seasons.
If Polumbus can't rise to the challenge, then Moses will get the nod, which is something to expect midway through the season if Moses progresses steadily.
Moses has the tools to be the long-term option for the Redskins at right tackle, but he needs to hone his technique and get his conditioning locked down.
Early Winner: Tyler Polumbus—Moses has to show he can hack it at right tackle, even if his skill set fits the position better at the NFL level. Polumbus is not the worst right tackle in the world, and he may benefit from subtle scheme tweaks under Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay.
Wide Receiver Depth
DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts are the top three receivers for the Redskins, which is almost unthinkable considering just last season they seemed to be desperate for receivers. Behind that trio, however, the depth chart is a bit of a mess.
Leonard Hankerson is the perennial potential breakout candidate, though he is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL suffered late in the 2013 season. If healthy, and with surer hands, Hankerson is a solid possession receiver and potential red-zone target.
Aldrick Robinson is the deep threat who offers little else. He's great when he gets open deep, but he doesn't run the rest of the routes a receiver should and is mediocre at getting any separation on routes that require him to do anything beyond simply running fast.
Santana Moss is the elder statesman in the rotation and may end up as the go-to fourth receiver because of his experience and ability to do just about everything from underneath routes, to going over the middle, bubble screens and going deep.
Undrafted free agent Cody Hoffman and sixth-round pick Ryan Grant could be in line to replace the both of them in the near future. Hoffman is a big-bodied receiver who could easily overtake Hankerson as a possession receiver.
Grant isn't the deep threat Robinson is, but he does all the little things that Robinson seems unable to grasp. He has some of the best hands of any receiver in the class but lacks the rest of the package to push for a major role.
Early Winner: Santana Moss—While the top of the depth chart is scary talented, the supporting cast is lacking in definition. Moss is dependable and could have another surprise year as he did in 2012, but the Redskins need the youth movement to take the reins at some point. Hoffman and Grant will either push Hankerson and Robinson or overtake them on the depth chart.
Backup Outside Linebacker
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are the unquestioned starters at outside linebacker. The Redskins picked up Kerrigan's option and used the franchise tag to keep Orakpo around for a show-me year.
Behind KerRakpo are Rob Jackson, Brandon Jenkins and rookie Trent Murphy, who was drafted in the second round.
Over the last two seasons, Jackson has tallied 6.5 sacks, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a touchdown. He is a solid veteran capable of producing as a starter or as part of a rotation.
Jenkins didn't see much playing time as a rookie last season and is considered a bit of a project pass-rush specialist. He has some promise but needs development, making him the weak link in this competition.
Murphy's draft status should put both starters and Jackson on notice.
He may not have the most explosive pass-rush repertoire, but he is relentless and led the country in sacks in 2013. Murphy may not get any starts as a rookie, barring injury to either starter, but he could press Jackson for playing time.
Early Winner: Rob Jackson—Experience is on his side, but Murphy's play on the field is tough and relentless, so expect Jackson to have to work just to be the primary backup at outside linebacker.
London Fletcher's retirement following the 2013 season has left a void at inside linebacker alongside Perry Riley. Keenan Robinson, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan are the important names currently vying for the starting job.
Jordan is an eight-year veteran with minimal experience as a 3-4 inside linebacker. He played one season with the Kansas City Chiefs, starting 10 games and recording 67 combined tackles in the process.
He brings NFL experience to the defense, but he lacks Robinson's youth and Sharpton's 3-4 experience.
Robinson was drafted in 2012 to be developed and ultimately succeed Fletcher. He tore his right pectoral late in his rookie season and missed all of the 2013 season after tearing his left pectoral. His lack of experience and injury history hurt his chances.
Sharpton has 19 starts under his belt, including eight starts in 2013 where he recorded 87 total tackles and a forced fumbled. He has played in Houston's 3-4 scheme for the last three years, which gives him the edge over the rest of the field.
Early Winner: Darryl Sharpton—He has the experience in the system and produced his best season just last year. Robinson's promise is no substitute for experience.