Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
At no other position is competition more intense than the starting inside linebacker spot next to Perry Riley Jr. Akeem Jordan, Darryl Sharpton and Keenan Robinson are all battling for the job. Even Adam Hayward belongs in the mix.
What's intriguing about the battle are the different qualities offered by the first three names. Both Jordan and Sharpton have starting experience in 3-4 schemes with the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, respectively.
They are willing hitters against the run and boast the added value of special teams excellence. That's a major factor given the team's efforts to get better in that area this season.
However, neither Jordan nor Sharpton can offer the athletic range Robinson possesses. The 2012 fourth-round pick is flexible enough to be a useful part of the coverage schemes. Robinson also boasts excellent sideline-to-sideline quickness that makes him strong in pursuit.
But it's the versatility to operate outside that could appeal most to play-caller Haslett. Robinson has good pass-rush skills and can blitz off the edge.
That's something Haslett likes to do with Riley out of nickel packages. Haslett will certainly be able to use Robinson to add more variety to the team's zone-blitz schemes.
The different roles he can occupy should give Robinson the inside track. Gruden was left suitably impressed during OTAs, per Brian McNally of The Washington Times:
He’s a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally. He’s doing a great job. The linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around. He’s a very fluid athlete.
However, the caveat with Robinson is his health. He has missed 21 games in two seasons since being drafted. That creates a level of uncertainty that could open the door for one of the other three contenders.
Jordan is likely the strongest candidate from that group after having a fine season with the Chiefs. He notched 67 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles in 2013, according to stats from NFL.com.
It's safe to give the early edge to Jordan, at least until Robinson proves his health. Some work in sub-package defenses most likely awaits Robinson.
Likely Winner: Jordan
The outcome of these five battles will have major implications on the schemes for both the offense and defense. If Baker beats Jenkins, Haslett has another competent front-line pass-rusher to pair with Hatcher. That will let him use more one-gap, attacking principles along the line.
Meanwhile, Gruden would likely love to see Moses replace Polumbus. The new coach preferred size in the trenches when he ran the offense for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Having Moses on the right would allow him to incorporate some power techniques. That would ensure a more versatile scheme.
The one thing each battle proves is the good work done by Gruden and Allen to beef up the roster. Greater depth bodes well for Washington.