Washington Redskins Training Camp: Week 2 Stock Report
The stocks are certainly up for several members of the defense at the Washington Redskins training camp. Among them is a young linebacker being primed for a critical role at the heart of the front seven.
He is joined by a graybeard safety expected to be a leader at a position that still leaves many fans and pundits nervous. To those concerned, this veteran has a message proclaiming enthusiasm and hope about the defensive backfield.
There have also been contrasting fortunes for the team's top two picks from the 2014 NFL draft. Meanwhile, the competition for work as a third-down running back has taken a few new turns.
Here's a stock-up, stock-down assessment for some key players at the start of the second week of training camp.
Stock Up: Keenan Robinson LB
The health of Keenan Robinson has become a hot topic since the new regime has decided to give him a prominent role this season. The brittle fourth-round pick from 2012 is being groomed to assume the role of defensive signal-caller, according to Liz Clarke of The Washington Post:
Four days into training camp, Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson is still practicing full out. And that represents a major step forward for the 6-foot-3, 238-pound former Texas standout who’s expected to inherit the signal-calling duties handled so ably these last seven years by London Fletcher, who retired last season.
Considering that it's a role previously held by the distinguished Fletcher, Robinson's stock is definitely up. That he's been trusted to essentially quarterback the defense is a measure of the trust the coaches have in his ability.
So far, though, that ability can only be measured in potential. Consecutive chest injuries mean Robinson has only appeared in 11 games in two seasons. He has yet to make a start since being drafted.
But a positive offseason, along with range that few other members of the inside linebacker rotation can match, has put Robinson in the frame as a key starter. His flexibility turned heads during OTAs, according to Brian McNally of The Washington Times:
There is still some caution when discussing what Robinson can bring — the size at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, and the speed to stay with the NFL’s new breed of big, fast, physical tight ends who can run and catch and make life miserable for linebackers in coverage. But that potential all goes to waste if Robinson isn’t on the field.
Robinson's athleticism can help expand the playbook for coordinator Jim Haslett. Robinson can be used as a zone-dropper or to supplement pressure in Haslett's fire-zone calls. It's a scheme that requires versatility, speed and smarts.
So far during camp, Robinson is exhibiting all three. Now it's time to keep fingers crossed that he can avoid injury.
Stock Down: Morgan Moses, OT
The Redskins used a third-round pick in this year's draft on Morgan Moses hoping to get a starter-ready offensive tackle who could supplant Tyler Polumbus on the right side. But early exposure to life in the pros hasn't been smooth sailing for the rookie.
He had issues working at right tackle during OTAs, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post. That prompted a move back to the left to work as backup to Trent Williams.
Now Moses is being tasked with providing swing cover at both spots, according to ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim:
Moses has to learn how to play lower and use better angles and move his feet. But how he handles the backup role could determine Tom Compton’s fate. He’s been working as the primary backup at right tackle in camp. But if Moses shows he can handle life as the main backup, then Compton would have a harder time making the roster (teams don’t always keep four tackles).
It's telling that Keim only talks about Moses in the context of backup roles. That's a clear indicator that plans to make him a first-year starter have been shelved.
That's not great news for the chances of a revival for an O-line that allowed 43 sacks last season, per statistics from the team's NFL.com profile page. However, while this is a position that values continuity as much as any other in football, quality depth is also key.
That's something Washington hasn't really had up front since the days of Joe Gibbs' glorious first tenure. Having a player in reserve who can be trusted at either tackle spot can be a boost to the overall quality of this roster.
Stock Up: Ryan Clark and the Washington Secondary
The secondary rates as perhaps the biggest concern entering the 2014 NFL season. The pass defense was 20th last season, per numbers from NFL.com. Yet only slight changes have been made to that group.
One such change is the addition of 34-year-old free safety Ryan Clark. He is expected to be a leader and a source of knowledge for a group that struggled mightily in 2013.
Clark is already doing what he can to buoy the confidence of his fellow defensive backs. If many fans and commentators believe this secondary is a weakness, Clark certainly doesn't agree.
He recently said as much to NFL Media Insider Jeff Darlington (h/t NFL.com writer Mike Coppinger):
The biggest thing is talent. It's the most talented secondary I've been around. It's the most talented group of corners I've ever played with.
And also, as far as intelligence, we don't have that one guy that's from Mars with the long hair (Troy Polamalu), but Brandon (Meriweather) is a guy who's been to the Pro Bowl, guy who was a first-round pick, so I think talent-wise, we're there.
Clark's confidence is certainly welcome. However, this time on the NFL calendar is the sole domain of bravado and player speak.
The Clark-led defensive backfield still has a lot to prove. Meriweather has to temper his reckless instincts and play smart football, while Clark must prove there's still life left in his ageing legs.
Meanwhile, cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Bashaud Breeland and Tracy Porter must live up to Clark's billing in an NFC East division populated with brilliant wide receivers.
Stock Down: Bacarri Rambo, Safety
Clark may be waxing lyrical about his fellow cover men, but at least one defensive back hasn't been endearing himself to the new staff. Safety Bacarri Rambo, 24, has produced an erratic early showing at camp, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post:
There were some mixed results for young safety Bacarri Rambo. He had a rare display of physicality as he flew into a pile and knocked Chris Thompson to the ground, ending his run. But on the next play, Rambo was late in getting over to pick up Moss, who made a catch on an in route around the 15-yard line and scored on what turned out to be a 40-yard touchdown pass from Cousins.
Taking bad angles in coverage, particularly in the deep zones, was something that plagued Rambo as a rookie. The 2013 sixth-round pick was thrown into the mixer without the suitable physical range and knowledge of scheme nuances to play safety in the NFL.
The fact that his key weakness is still obvious doesn't bode well for the Georgia product. His struggles are also not a good omen for a team that needs competent coverage at safety behind the ageing pair Clark and Meriweather (30).
Stock Up: Chris Thompson, RB
Like Rambo, Chris Thompson is another player who endured a torrid time as a rookie in 2013. However, his fortunes and stock are on the up during camp.
Thompson appeared in just four games last season as ball-security woes and injuries took away coaches' confidence in him. But Thompson is taking his chance to show new head coach Jay Gruden what he can do.
That has included showcasing his awesome, field-stretching speed. ESPN's John Keim has described how Thompson is running faster this year:
It's been evident in practice that Thompson feels better. He's shown more flash than he did last summer when he earned a roster spot as a rookie. Judging a running back early in camp is dangerous because, with no live tackling, it's impossible to measure how many defenders he makes miss. So a back will squirt through the middle, break free and hear the crowd cheer. The reality: It's tough to know if he'd have been tackled after 2 yards or 20.
While Keim is right to advise cautious expectations, Thompson's freshness is still a major plus point. It puts him in contention for third-down duties as a versatile, change-of-pace complement to lead runner Alfred Morris.
That's the one obvious thing missing from what is otherwise a fully loaded group at the skill positions. It's a role Thompson is keen to make his own, per Liz Clarke of The Washington Post.
Having a dual-threat speedster attack defenses from out of the backfield only expands the playbook. Thompson can emerge in this key role if he stays healthy long enough to continue refining his game.
Stock Down: Lache Seastrunk, RB
One of the players in direct competition with Thompson is 2014 sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk. Unfortunately, camp hasn't been without its hardships and calamities for the ex-Baylor ace.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post has reported how Seastrunk is still coming to grips with adding more strings to his bow as a pro-style running back:
It’s been documented that rookie running back Lache Seastrunk will require some developing in the pass-catching department because Baylor rarely used him in this capacity. Today served as a reminder, as Cousins swung the ball out to his left – but still behind the line – to Seastrunk. The back couldn’t hold onto the ball and slapped his helmet with both hands and got ready to run back to the huddle before Gruden yelled, “Get on the ball!” Because it wasn’t a forward pass, it was a live ball. Two defenders dived at the ball, as did Seastrunk, but it squirted out of bounds before linebacker Adrian Robinson scooped it up.
Whether Seastrunk likes or not, ability as a receiver is going to be a deciding factor in determining which reserve backs survive the final cuts. Seastrunk is quick and shifty, and he is a better natural runner and ball-carrier than a player like Thompson.
But if he can't pose a threat as a pass-catcher, his opportunities to get on the field will quickly shrink. Gruden is unlikely to want to keep a back around who will take only a dozen or so carries off Morris during the whole season.
Stock Up: Trent Murphy, OLB
Trent Murphy was a contentious first choice in this year's draft for Washington. After all, the pass-rusher was being added to a position Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan already call home.
However, adding Murphy was a smart play to improve depth and provide another weapon for Haslett's pressure schemes. The rookie has wasted little time working hard to repay that faith.
Murphy is earning the respect of teammates and coaches at camp for his application and intelligence. Liz Clarke of The Washington Post has reported that the ex-Stanford man's versatility and understanding of the playbook have particularly stood out.
Both qualities are positive signs that Murphy can handle the key role the Redskins have planned for him. Clarke described how Murphy is likely to be used as a rookie:
With the Redskins ranked 20th against the pass last season, Murphy won’t have the luxury of a lengthy apprenticeship. Coaches want to throw him into the mix quickly, sometimes lining him up alongside Kerrigan and Orakpo, other times spelling them.
Utilizing more roving athletes to add greater creativity and variety to a pressure-based defense has to be a main priority approaching the new season. Murphy's positive early progress bodes well for Haslett's attempts to unleash the full scope of his schemes in 2014.
It won't surprise many that the main notable concerns from the early stages of camp involve players along the O-line and in the secondary. Those are the two areas that could do more to derail Gruden's first season in charge than any other positions.
However, there are plenty of encouraging signs from the defensive front seven. The unit as a whole will be under the spotlight this season. But there are already indicators it can be better than advertised.