Washington Redskins' 5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Training Camps
A new head coach will always provoke discussion about which players will be first to leave, and the Washington Redskins are no different.
There are players currently on the roster who face a real battle to make the team this year. Training camp marks a final chance to impress in practice and stake a claim for more preseason action.
The rules for creating this list were simple: no rookies. While it may be true that late-round picks and undrafted free agents need to play out of their minds if they want to make the team, it's also not very interesting.
The value lies in looking at players who were on the roster last year—even if it was the practice squad—and assessing their chances of making it under Jay Gruden.
It's not exhaustive, and feel free to add your own players in the comments, but first read on for five players who have a lot to prove when camp gets underway.
Chris Thompson, Running Back
Chris Thompson arrived as the guy looking to supplant Roy Helu, Jr. as the speedy change-of-pace back also capable of catching passes out of the backfield. Instead, he struggled to make an impact as both a running back and return man before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Now that Lache Seastrunk has arrived, the pressure is really on Thompson to deliver. Helu also remains on the roster and frankly has more to offer than both Thompson and Seastrunk right now. That's not to say that the young guys can't overtake him, but this season Gruden will likely have to choose between them.
The smart money is on the player that Gruden actually drafted, which could leave Thompson out in the cold. Thompson has a litany of injuries in his history, too, which will worry the new head coach. It's essential that the second-year player plays with the same confidence and pace that saw him outrun defenses at Florida State.
If he can get ahead of Evan Royster, he has more of a chance. Washington carried four backs on its roster last year, so a quartet of Alfred Morris, Helu, Seastrunk and Thompson is certainly a possibility.
He's not yet out of the picture, but Thompson will know the fight that's ahead of him. How he faces it will determine his future in D.C.
Chase Minnifield, Cornerback
Chase Minnifield was supposed to be the steal of the 2012 season, but the reality has turned out a little different.
Microfracture surgery slowed his path to the NFL, while a torn ACL in his rookie year put another barrier in front of him. Nevertheless, after spending the majority of the 2013 season on the practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster in November.
His plan will no doubt have been to stake his claim for the 2014 season, but then Gruden brought in Bashaud Breeland.
Minnifield will now have to compete with Richard Crawford for a place on the team. Crawford is recovering from a horrific knee injury that saw him tear all three cruciate ligaments, so Minnifield would appear to have the edge.
However, he must show that he is finally healthy and ready to make a real contribution to the team. He showed flashes of potential in 2012 and 2013, but the feeling persisted that he was not quite ready to play at this level.
Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad, but now that he’s healthy, it’s likely he’ll be claimed off waivers. If Gruden is going to keep him, he’ll have to make Minnifield part of the final 53.
With Breeland and Tracy Porter added—and ahead of him—training camp is the young corner’s final audition for the Washington Redskins. If it goes well, expect to see a lot of him during preseason. If not, he’s unlikely to make this team.
Kai Forbath, Kicker
Kai Forbath was brought in following the disaster of the Billy Cundiff experiment and made 17 of 18 attempts in 2012 and 18 of 22 in 2013.
However, the fact that Gruden brought in Zach Hocker with a draft pick showed he is serious about making the kicking job into a competition.
The reason for this was likely kickoffs—and specifically touchbacks—an area in which Forbath has struggled since he landed in Washington.
Hocker, on the other hand, powered 34 of his 50 kickoffs through the end zone for Arkansas last year. He also made 13 of 15 field goal attempts.
Could Gruden keep Forbath for field goals and Hocker for kickoffs? Of course, but it seems a little like a wasted roster spot. Some would even argue that using a draft pick on a kicker is also a waste, but that’s not the issue anymore.
The pressure is now on Forbath to beat out the rookie in camp and show that he is still the man for the job. He has proven NFL experience and has succeeded under game pressure at this level, which Hocker has yet to experience.
It’s possible that Hocker impresses in training camp—which he did at minicamp—but then falls apart in the preseason as he faces new burdens of responsibility.
Should this be the case, Forbath is in, but the onus is on him to impress the coaches all over again.
Aldrick Robinson, Wide Receiver
It’s no secret that Washington has been on a receiver binge, and that binge is the reason Aldrick Robinson finds himself on the outside looking in.
The sixth-round pick from 2011 has enviable speed and has picked up valuable points as a deep threat, but DeSean Jackson is now with the team.
Robinson was good for 365 yards and two touchdowns last year, but he just hasn’t developed as a complete receiver.
Too many dropped passes and a lack of versatility have plagued his progression in the NFL and it’s becoming difficult to see how he will make the team.
He did improve as the season went on last year, but the receiving corps is suddenly stacked with talent. Speed, good routes and size are among the attributes of the new additions. Undrafted rookie Cody Hoffman is currently looking like a better bet to make the roster.
Robinson needs training camp miracles more than anyone on this list.
His special teams prowess has been lacking so far, but it’s an area he has to give himself to in order to force his way onto the field. It’s currently being overhauled by new coordinator Ben Kotwica, so now is an ideal chance for Robinson to show more than speed.
Josh LeRibeus, Guard
Ah, Josh LeRibeus. An enigma among enigmas.
Drafted in the third round in 2012 to raised eyebrows everywhere, LeRibeus actually made an effective contribution in relief of Kory Lichtensteiger against Seattle.
The stage was set for him to become a starter last year, but instead he showed up 30 pounds overweight and looked totally uncommitted to the cause.
As a result, he was inactive for every game of the 2013 season. That’s an absolute disaster of a third-round pick.
As you would expect, Gruden set out to bolster the offensive line and brought in Shawn Lauvao from Cleveland on a contract that screams “starter.”
In addition to Lauvao, Spencer Long was drafted in the third round and will push LeRibeus for his place. As John Keim pointed out for ESPN.com: “Remember, the new head coach not only didn’t draft him, but he checked him out while in Cincinnati. I don’t think he would have drafted him. So LeRibeus has to prove something to him as much as anyone.”
The news out of camp is that LeRibeus has looked much better—more committed and back to a decent playing weight. That will show the new coaches that he is determined to make the team.
It also doesn’t change the fact that it could be too little, too late. By the third year of his professional career, it’s not unreasonable to expect a third-round choice to be a starter.
Not only has LeRibeus not done this, he’s actually further down the depth chart than he was when he was drafted. He can add depth at center, but that shouldn’t be his way of getting on the roster.
Look for a close battle between Long, LeRibeus and Chris Chester during training camp.