Washington Redskins' 5 Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Training Camp
As the NFL’s dead period drags on and things like World Cup fever take over, it is easy to forget that training camp is around the corner, which is one step closer to preseason football and the 2014 season beyond.
As exciting as the arrival of training camp may be, it comes with a ton of questions to be asked and hopefully answered.
With a revamped roster, a new coaching staff, a new offense and new expectations, here are the biggest question marks for the Redskins heading into training camp.
What Are They Doing on Special Teams?
Different aspects of Washington's team have looked bad over the past few seasons. Both offense and defense have had their ups and downs, but special teams has been consistently in need of serious improvement.
As it stands, we currently have no idea who will be kicking, who will be punting or who will be handling returns.
Incumbent kicker Kai Forbath faces competition from rookie Zach Hocker, who brings a stronger leg for kickoffs in particular. Sav Rocca was released earlier this offseason, making way for Robert Malone and Blake Clingan to compete for the job.
As for returners, the Redskins may have lucked out with Andre Roberts, who is capable of working both punt- and kick-return duties in addition to his role on offense. However, he hasn't worked return duty with any regularity since his rookie season.
Expected to compete with Roberts are Richard Crawford (returning from a torn ACL), the enigmatic Chris Thompson and inexperienced rookie Lache Seastrunk.
The Redskins have options across the board, but there's no level of confidence because the options are almost entirely new to the roster.
Have They Done Enough to Improve the Offensive Line?
The offensive line changed very little this offseason, though the Redskins did sign Shawn Lauvao, moved Kory Lichtensteiger to center and drafted Spencer Long and Morgan Moses to be future starters.
The future, however, has very little to do with training camp, and both Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus remain starters despite underwhelming 2013 campaigns.
Lauvao was an understated signing for the Redskins and did very little to upgrade the line. It merely allowed the team to move Lichtensteiger to a more natural position. Until Moses and Long become starters, this offseason can be considered a bust in terms of improving the line responsible for protecting Robert Griffin III.
Training camp will show just how far Long and Moses are in their development and how well Lichtensteiger and Lauvao work in their new roles. Aside from Trent Williams, every single lineman on the Redskins roster has a question mark beside their name.
Which Veterans Will Be on the Bubble?
Stephen Bowen is currently the fifth-highest-paid player on the roster, but he can't be expected to make a full recovery from microfracture surgery by the time the season begins. He is either in line to have his contract restructured, or he may be cut and re-signed at a lower rate.
He can be productive, particularly as part of a rotation, but he is not worth the price he's currently being paid.
Santana Moss, the elder statesman of the receiving corps, looks to be sitting at fourth on the depth chart, but he lacks the youth and upside of Aldrick Robinson or rookies Cody Hoffman and Ryan Grant.
Right guard Chris Chester can expect to have rookie Spencer Long breathing down his neck throughout training camp. He is on the books for $4.3 million in 2014, which is a big number considering how poorly he played in 2013.
Bowen's situation should resolve before the end of camp while Chester's and Moss' situations rely heavily on the performance of younger players at their positions. Chester has value with depth and experience, but he is not playing up to his contract value, which may force the Redskins to find a way to pay him less.
What Role Will Trent Murphy Play?
The Redskins used their franchise tag on him, guaranteeing him $11.45 million in 2014, which they’re hoping is the incentive he needs to perform up to his elite billing.
Then they drafted Trent Murphy in the second round of this year's draft, and the situation became more confusing.
Lacking a first-round pick put the Redskins at a disadvantage in the draft, but to then use their highest pick to bolster a position of strength seems counterintuitive. They had needs along the offensive line, inside linebacker, secondary and special teams.
Murphy is a productive, high-motor pass-rusher who will be hard-pressed to steal time from Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan. He needs to adjust to the speed of the game, but even that won’t earn him substantial time over Washington’s formidable linebacker duo.
If it ends up being a long-term play—a contingency plan for Orakpo’s eventual departure—then it is a genius move. But for now, it raises questions regarding Murphy’s role as a rookie—if he’s going to sit and learn or be expected to produce in limited playing time.
Who Is Under More Pressure: RGIII or Jay Gruden?
Jay Gruden is taking on his first NFL head-coaching gig where his predecessor was all but run out of town, and he’s coming off of an underwhelming postseason performance as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator.
To be asked to take the helm of a franchise with a rich history, three Super Bowl victories and a terrifyingly fierce fanbase is a daunting task.
He is also in charge of guiding Robert Griffin III, who is coming off a season where he was visibly affected by a bulky knee brace, poor communication with his coaches and the weight of the entire franchise on his shoulders.
Griffin should be physically recovered from knee surgery last offseason, but where does he stand mentally or mechanically?
He has to know that another losing season, regardless of numerous valid reasons, isn’t going to cut it for a player that cost the team three first-round selections (and a second-rounder) to acquire. Football is a team game, but Griffin is the face of the franchise who has yet to live up to the hype or the price paid to draft him.
While it may seem a small question, the way each reacts to their respective pressures will dictate the success or failure of the entire team.