5 Players Turning Heads at Washington Redskins Training Camp
With a new head coach in town, the 2014 Washington Redskins training camp is a place of opportunity. The chance to start with a clean slate means a lot of positions are up for grabs this year. Players are doing everything they can to impress the new staff.
Some guys have already made plays and are starting to pull away from their competitors after the first week of camp.
Read on for five Redskins who have done just that.
Chris Thompson, Running Back
After a succession of injuries and a dispiriting 2013, many people—myself included—thought Chris Thompson would fail to make the roster this year.
Instead, he's gone out and proved that he has what it takes to be a successful running back in the NFL. Obviously, he's not going to supplant Alfred Morris, but the speed and agility he's shown in camp will push him up the depth chart.
Since the second day of camp, Thompson has taken his game to the next level. John Keim of ESPN.com said the former Seminole has regained his burst:
It was evident in the spring he had improved. And, Friday, Thompson’s burst was more evident. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the hands, he’s got the quickness,” Gruden said. “He’s got everything you’re looking for. We’ve just got to make sure he stays healthy.”
After the first week of camp, Keim looked at the battle for the position of third-down back and said Thompson had "emerged":
He’s resembled the runner he was in college more than he ever did last summer. For the most part, Thompson has caught the ball well and did a solid job in the pass protection drills Monday, a day after he was disappointed in his showing. If Thompson proves he can stay durable in camp—it’s a huge issue for him—he’ll stay productive. He’s taken snaps with the first offense in nickel situations this week.
This steady improvement means Thompson will not only make the roster but also see the field as part of the offense. Of course, he first needs to leapfrog Roy Helu Jr., who has the knowledge of the scheme and is a better asset in the run game right now.
There's still a way to go, but Thompson has certainly taken the opportunities given to him and is on track to make a real contribution in Washington this year.
Andre Roberts, Wide Receiver
Of all the receivers, including Pierre Garcon, Roberts has been the one who has connected with Griffin during camp. The quarterback seems to trust him, knowing he can be relied upon to run the route as expected and make the catch every time.
NBC's Dianna Marie Russini noticed the connection as early as July 25, voicing the observation via Twitter:
Chemistry between Andre Roberts and RG3 looks sharp. #Redskins— Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) July 25, 2014
While Roberts looks set to be the third receiver on the depth chart regardless of how much he lights up camp, the fact that he's been able to get in sync with Griffin so early means his targets could yet go up.
If Griffin is confident that Roberts will get open and make a play, he'll continue to throw him the ball. With Jordan Reed also displaying good hands, there should be an option for Griffin every time a passing play is called.
With Roberts set to contribute as a kick/punt returner, the former Cardinal has set himself up for a big year in 2014. Of course, as his importance to the offense increases, he'll likely see less time on special teams.
However, if that is to be the biggest worry this season, Redskins fans will definitely take it.
Keenan Robinson, Inside Linebacker
The most encouraging report about Keenan Robinson's progress came from Liz Clarke at The Washington Post: "Four days into training camp, Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson is still practicing full out."
For a player who has been dogged by two pectoral injuries in two years (right and then left) and hasn't started a game since being drafted in 2012, that is definitely something to shout about.
Robinson has also been efficiently calling plays as the "Mike" linebacker, taking over for London Fletcher as the signal-caller for the defense. It's a lot of responsibility for a player who hasn't started a regular-season game, but Robinson has so far proved he is up to it.
When he spoke to Clarke, he went through his thought process at the line.
"I always think, not so much 'What would London do?' but what should we do in this situation on the field?" he said. "How would he react? How would he fill the run? Cover a pass? He showed me lot of things — veteran moves that were very helpful. I can take some of those things and apply it to the game."
There is still a concern that the injuries will return. Washington doesn't have a huge amount of depth at the position, despite the arrival of Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan, so it's critical that Robinson remains on the field.
For now, however, the signs are good.
David Amerson, Cornerback
David Amerson had a solid, if unspectacular, rookie year, but the most important part of it was the fact that he got better as the season progressed.
He needed to, though, as Josh Wilson was obviously going to be let go at the end of the year and the secondary badly needed someone to step up and be accountable in 2014.
By all accounts, Amerson is doing that in camp. Jay Gruden and his staff have been pitting the second-year corner against Pierre Garcon to see what the young guy is made of.
The results have been positive, with ESPN.com's John Keim singling out Amerson for extra attention: "Thursday, for example, he did a nice job against Pierre Garcon with his jam and subsequent coverage, with his hands—and eyes—in the right place."
DeAngelo Hall remains the No. 1 corner and is therefore much more likely to go against the No.1 receiver, but the fact that Amerson has obviously grown in the offseason will make a huge difference.
With Amerson slotting into his first full-time starting role, it will be helpful having both Hall and Ryan Clark around him. Clark instinctively knows how to read a play and will offer Amerson a great deal of assistance in that area. There's no reason he can't continue to improve this year and offer some much-needed stability in the secondary.
"Sometimes you’re going to get beat," he said. "Sometimes you’re gonna miss a tackle. Man, it’s real out there on the edge. Cornerback is one of the hardest positions in the league. You definitely have to have some pit bull about yourself. I do... I'm glad [Gruden] thinks highly of me."
Amerson has to face Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins in Week 1, so we'll soon know just how much he has developed.
Chris Baker, Defensive End
Chris Baker was given a three-year, $12 million contract in February in recognition of his services to the Redskins since arriving in 2011. All that remained was for him to force his way into a regular starting role.
Despite the presence of Jarvis Jenkins, the team's second-round pick from 2011, Baker has consistently been lining up with the first team in camp. He's also been getting to the next level and sacking the quarterback—or it would have been a sack in a game scenario.
"You just got to work hard every day," he said. "You can’t take any days off. Every day is an important day, so you just got to continue to get better and better each day.”
For a man weighing 340 pounds, what has been most impressive about Baker is his speed. He's been fast and aggressive, beating Tyler Polumbus with both technique and power.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has also noticed a difference, and Clarke quoted him in the same piece.
"He has grown up," Haslett said. "Athletic-wise there are not too many guys like him that are 340 pounds that can run, are athletic. He has all that stuff. It’s more upstairs with him. He had [sic] grown every year I’ve seen him."
If Baker keeps this up, Jenkins is going to find it difficult to get on the field.