5 Bold Predictions for Washington Redskins Ahead of 2014 Training Camp
Still, despite their struggles from a year ago, 16 starters return in 2014.
While the expectations shouldn't be as high as a year ago, Washington should be looking to, at the very least, contend after acquiring the likes of DeSean Jackson and Jason Hatcher.
What else should you expect out of the 2014 Redskins, though?
Let's find out.
Here are five bold predictions for the Redskins' 2014 season.
Chris Baker Will Lead Washington Defensive Line in Sacks
After its defensive line only tallied 5.5 sacks a season ago, Washington acquired Hatcher in free agency to bolster its pass rush up front.
In the wake of Hatcher's signing, Stephen Bowen went as far as to declare to ESPN 980's Chris Russell, (h/t ESPN.com's John Keim) that the Redskins could have "the most dominant D-Line in the NFL."
But after a look at the injuries and age of the team's top defensive linemen, this might not be the case.
Bowen is 30 years old and coming off the dreaded microfracture knee surgery, while the 32-year-old Hatcher underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-June. Additionally, Barry Cofield, a 30-year-old nose tackle, had offseason hernia surgery.
Enter Chris Baker.
Bowen's fill-in for the final three games of the 2013 campaign, Baker flashed enough promise for the Redskins to reward him with a three-year, $12 million contract, despite only registering one sack last season.
However, in only three starts, Baker had 28 tackles and was third on the team in quarterback hits with five.
With offenses sliding their protections to combat Hatcher and Orakpo, Baker will have the opportunity to exploit one-on-one matchups.
While a sack total in the teens is highly unlikely for Baker, especially considering the 3-4 scheme he plays in, he should lead the defensive line in sacks.
Prediction: 41 tackles, four sacks.
Brian Orakpo Will Have a Career Year
After a successful return from injury, Orakpo was designated as the team's franchise player. Set to make over $11.4 million in 2014, though, Orakpo has some work to do to deserve such a distinction.
Orakpo's career high for sacks in a season is 11, and that came during his rookie campaign.
Now surrounded by the likes of rookie Trent Murphy and Hatcher, along with holdover Ryan Kerrigan, the pieces are in place for him to surpass such numbers, as offenses now have other pass-rushers to monitor.
Furthermore, after spending significant time in coverage last season, Orakpo has been afforded the green light to rush the passer more in 2014.
Via Mike Jones of The Washington Post, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett reiterated that Washington’s outside linebackers are going to be “turned loose” to get into the backfield and disrupt quarterbacks this season.
With Washington's secondary still the weak link on defense, you can expect Orakpo to have plenty of opportunities to do just that.
Prediction: 55 tackles, 13 sacks.
Jordan Reed Will Lead the Team in Receptions
With the likes of Pierre Garcon and Jackson highlighting Washington's receiving corps, it's easy for tight end Jordan Reed to get lost in the shuffle.
Although he missed seven games to injury last season, Reed had a sensational rookie season.
In nine games, with just four starts, Reed tallied 45 receptions, 499 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Now, fully recovered from the concussion that cut his season short, the decks are set for Reed to thrust his name into the limelight.
Already possessing a great rapport with Griffin, the attention that Jackson, Garcon and Andre Roberts draw will make Reed that much more of a weapon.
As defenses shade additional men toward, particularly, Jackson and Garcon on the outside, the middle of the field is wide open for Reed to work. Matched up with opposing teams' linebackers and safeties in one-on-one coverage, you can bet on Reed leading the team in receptions this season—draft him while you can, fantasy owners.
Prediction: 85 receptions, 900 yards and seven touchdowns.
Alfred Morris Will Lead Washington Running Backs in Receptions
After catching a measly 20 receptions his first two seasons in the NFL, Morris can't blame the Redskins for giving his snaps to other backs on passing downs.
But considering that he was dubbed as the team's best offensive weapon by Griffin, via Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com, it only makes sense that Morris would be provided the opportunity to shore up this weakness.
Talking with Czarda on his role in the passing game, Morris highlighted how he planned to improve as a receiver:
I’m just building that trust with the quarterbacks and the coaches to get that confidence that I can catch it to be a viable option in the passing game. Even within myself, I’m building that confidence that I can handle the pressure of a 3rd and 5, and I’m running that choice route to win and catch the ball to keep us on the field. It comes down to confidence in myself, confidence of the coaches and quarterbacks in me. Just working hard, making sure I look the ball in before I catch it. I like to run before I secure the ball, but I just have to work on securing the ball before I run.
Bolstering Morris' cause on this front is the set of players Washington has backing him up.
In Chris Thompson and Lache Seastrunk, head coach Jay Gruden has two players who have the requisite speed and quickness to thrive in the open field. Problem is, neither has proved themselves as pass-catchers.
Thompson only had 45 receptions in his collegiate career at Florida State, and Seastrunk only had nine catches at Baylor.
This just leaves Roy Helu. A sure-handed back who had 31 receptions last season, Helu's lack of big-play ability makes it more sensible to try Morris out as a receiver. Of his 87 career receptions, only six have netted more than 20 yards.
Sum it all up, and the Redskins don't have much to lose by giving Morris a gander as the team's third-down back.
Prediction: 30 receptions, 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Redskins Will Win NFC East
Entering the 2014 campaign, the Redskins have to be leading candidates to do so, courtesy of their place in the downtrodden NFC East.
As is the case in many divisions, quarterback play is the driving force here. And believe it or not, the Redskins may have the least amount of uncertainty surrounding this key position.
Further removed from the knee injury that wrecked his sophomore campaign, Griffin should resemble the player who took the NFL by storm as a rookie. Surrounded by top-end receivers and an elite rushing attack, the Griffin-led Redskins should overtake the Eagles as the top offensive team in the division.
Minus Jackson and the element of surprise, defenses will have an easier go in attacking Foles' weaknesses now that they're accustomed to Chip Kelly's offense.
Then there's Eli Manning. If the 27 interceptions he threw last season weren't bad enough, Manning is now recovering from offseason ankle surgery.
As for Tony Romo, he, too, underwent offseason surgery, but on his back. Paired with Dallas' league-worst defense, the pressure will be on Romo to produce high scoring totals to keep the Cowboys afloat—and we all know how he performs under pressure.
All told, the door's wide open for Washington to take the division crown and return to the postseason.
Prediction: 9-7 record.