Washington Redskins: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
In Virginia's state capital for the second straight training camp, the 2014 Washington Redskins have a vastly different look from last season.
A year after internal turmoil between the coaching staff and Robert Griffin III engulfed the team, actual football is the talk of the town in Richmond.
With the team's first preseason game on the horizon, what is it that we've learned about the Redskins in training camp thus far?
Now healthy, what can we expect from Griffin? How is Washington's rookie class assimilating to the NFL?
Let's find out. Here are five things we've learned through the first week of training camp.
An Improved Aldrick Robinson
Known for the big play, Aldrick Robinson is making a concerted effort to become a better all-around receiver. With the logjam the team currently has at wideout, he's certainly picked the perfect time to do so.
While not touching on his chances of making the team, Robinson discussed the ongoing competition at receiver to Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com:
Look at the competition. You've got guys out here playing ball right now, they're making plays. You've got rookies coming in looking like two-year, three-year pros. You've got Ryan Grant, he's looking like he a four-year like I have you know.
The competition and the depth is crazy, I can echo that because we've got a good group and it's going to be a tough decision at the end of the day (as to who the defense wants to stop first.)
Working with new receivers coach Ike Hilliard, Robinson is doing what he can to ensure that he remains a part of that group.
In his attempt to learn the nuances of the position, Robinson discussed the impact Hilliard has had:
He does a great job helping us get in and out of our breaks. That's what it is, beating the defensive back out your break. Understanding the concept of your offense and how fast you got to come in, time of the route and just beating the defensive back out the break.
Even with his focus geared toward improving these aspects of his game, as the Redskins' official Twitter account can attest to, Robinson hasn't forgotten how to make the splashy play.
With the attention that Washington's top receivers are sure to draw, there's an opportunity for Robinson to make an impact if he can translate his improvement to actual games.
Emphasis on Special Teams
The return unit, the kick coverage, you name it: Washington's special teams were beyond inadequate last season.
The team surrendered a league-worst 16.8 yards per punt return in 2013. And to cap off this unit's ineptitude, tight end Niles Paul and aged veteran Santana Moss, then 34, were the leading return men.
As you could expect, the team ushered in a slew of new faces during the offseason. With its acquisitions of players like kicker Zach Hocker, punter Robert Malone and linebacker Adam Hayward—signed on because of his prowess on special teams—Washington has made strides to address this glaring weakness.
This renewed commitment was also evident when the team cut ties with Brandon Jenkins.
Buried on the depth chart behind Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as a rookie, it was telling that Jenkins only played six games last season, especially in light of the team's woes on special teams.
Due to his lack of effectiveness there, his poor showing in training camp, according to Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Washington, was all the cause the team needed to cut ties with the former fifth-round pick.
With Jenkins' ouster sending a clear message that backups will contribute on this unit if they're to make the team, players will be more inclined to buy into playing special teams. As Paul relayed to The Associated Press (via WJLA.com), this is an important factor.
"We've got guys in here that actually want to be on the teams and who know their role on this team," he said.
What the team has also got is a new special teams coach, Ben Kotwica. A former Iraq war veteran, Kotwica has used his motivation skills to create an excitement about playing on his "special forces."
In comments he made to the AP, Griffin emphasized the impact Kotwica has had on players.
"He had us so pumped up in there from his speech, I raised my hand. I was ready to run down on kickoffs," Griffin said.
As Washington aims to be the latest worst-to-first story in the NFL, any gains on special teams would aid the team in this cause.
For a team that was ravaged by injuries in key spots just last season—see Phillip Thomas and Griffin—the importance of this can't be overstated. With just three players currently on its physically unable to perform list, Washington's injury report, via SB Nation's Hogs Haven, indicates that the team is nearing full strength.
Redskins Injury Report
Positional drills only
Jerry Rice Jr
Possibly after 8/7 Preseason game
Microfracture knee surgery(PUP)
While this list is sure to change with four preseason games left to play, it remains a positive development. Just look at the key losses that division rivals like the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys have already suffered—Sean Lee and David Wilson, anyone?
In a wide-open NFC East, such injuries could be crucial in determining who takes the division crown.
Rookies' Limited Impact
The team's 3-13 record from last season wouldn't indicate as much, but there won't be much opportunity for Washington's 2014 draft class to make an impact this season.
A look up and down the team's projected roster—via John Keim of ESPN.com—and you'd be hard-pressed to find a slot where a rookie could emerge as a starter without the aid of injury.
On a veteran-laden roster, the team's rookies are destined for mere backup roles.
Of the Redskins' eight draft picks, it's actually seventh-round pick Zach Hocker who has the best shot at cracking the starting lineup. And in the event he fails in his bout to unseat incumbent kicker Kai Forbath, he's likely to be ticketed to the team's practice squad.
All said, savor the glimpses you get of Washington's rookies during the preseason. Outside of special teams, their contributions will be minimal during the season.
A Different Robert Griffin III
With a tantalizing rookie campaign and a dreadful sophomore season on his resume, it's fair to wonder what version of Griffin we'll see in 2014.
In truth, though, the answer is neither. While his production wavered from year one to year two, Griffin's use of the zone read didn't.
Griffin ran the zone read 43 times in 2012 and 37 times last season, and that was in two fewer games.
Now under the direction of head coach Jay Gruden, though, Griffin's use of the zone read will be de-emphasized in 2014. In comments he made to ESPN.com's John Keim, Gruden made that clear.
"He's obviously very good at the read option. He's proven he can do it, but he's also had to come off a major injury," Gruden said. Accounting for how often the team was likely to use the zone read in 2014, Gruden said "maybe three or four times in two games."
Without the zone read, and with the weapons Washington has accumulated at receiver, you can expect a greater emphasis to be placed on the passing game this season.