Nearly three weeks into the 2009 Redskins training camp and the starting jobs on both sides of the ball have all but been settled.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn and his staff now must focus on dissecting the remaining 55 players on the camp roster to fill 28 open reserve slots.
Some of the selections are no-brainers such as RB Ladell Betts, WR Malcolm Kelly, WR Devin Thomas, TE Fred Davis, OL Chad Rinehart, and DB Fred Smoot.
Then there are those who were brought into camp to serve as live tackling dummies and blocking sleds for a month, only to return to their real jobs in early September when the final roster cuts are made.
With the potential of six-figure contracts dangled in front of them, several long-shots have impressed the local and national media (myself included), assistant coaches and some studious Redskin bloggers to the point that the “long” has been removed and they now have shot to make the opening game roster.
Let’s start with one of my favorites. DT Antonio Dixon was a known commodity while starting for the Miami Hurricanes. But Dixon went undrafted, likely because of a learning disability that would hinder his progress in the NFL.
In the first two weeks of camp Dixon did very little in practice to standout. Partly because he was and still is out of shape according to Redskins coach Jim Zorn.
Then something happened! There are practice players and then there is Antonio Dixon, who played as if his life was on the line in the first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Dixon created havoc in the Ravens’ backfield most of the second half of a 23-0 Redskins loss.
Shooting through gaps he had two quarterback pressures, two tackles for loss and stood out in a very ugly game for the Redskins.
Unfortunately for Dixon he plays a position which happens to be the strength of the team. Barring a major injury to DT’s Albert Haynesworth, Kedric Golston, Cornelius Griffin or Anthony Montgomery, Dixon is likely to end up on the practice squad or another team’s roster.
Tightend Robbie Agnone captured my attention very early in camp. The 6’6” undrafted free agent rookie from Delaware is a huge target who runs extremely well.
With soft hands and improving blocking skills, Agnone looked as if he had a shot of beating out nine-year veteran Todd Yoder for the third TE position on the roster.
But Agnone needed to be perfect this preseason to unseat Yoder. Zorn tends to favor veteran players, but as a former QB he also understands the importance what a visible target crossing over the middle can provide.
Agnone had a chance to close the gap with Yoder in the Ravens game last week, but Colt Brennen drilled a pass high on a seem route that soared off the rookies finger tips.
Understandable that he couldn’t hall the pass in, but necessary when fighting for an NFL job.
Agnone has three games remaining to unseat Yoder, but there is no margin for error. He must make the most of every play to have a prayer.
Finally, WR Marko Mitchell, a seventh round draft pick who Redskins management felt would bring a dimension to the offense that has been missing in Washington for some time.
At 6’4” and possessing above average speed, Mitchell would provide the Redskins with a Plaxico Burris type threat.
Like most rookies, Mitchell has towed-the-line and kept his mouth shut like a good little rookie is suppose to do. The “Good Shepherd” approach wasn’t working for Mitchell as he was losing the battle for the final WR spot to Marques Hagans, Keith Eloi, Trent Shelton and D.J. Hackett.
So Mitchell got tough. Tough enough to take on veteran CB DeAngelo Hall in a brief fight during practice the other day.
Finally shedding the nice guy image, Mitchell decided that if he was going to go down, he would do so fighting.
As a draft pick the Redskins have an investment in Mitchell, so of the three long-shots he has the best chance of making the team.
But Mitchell has to do more than fight with teammates to earn a spot on the roster. He has to make plays during the preseason games to separate from the other receivers.
Keep an eye on these three players over the next four weeks and watch if they continue to standout and possibly earn a spot on the 2009 Redskins roster.