Washington Redskins' Preseason Positional Battles, Part One

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst IJuly 29, 2008

The 2008 NFL preseason kicks off on Sunday with the Hall of Fame Game, featuring the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts.

For the Redskins' fans, there aren’t many competitions for starting positions to watch. Punter, defensive tackle, and surprisingly, wide receiver may even be up for grabs. So what should we be watching for? Let's take a closer look and find out.

I’ll start with the offense.

The starters are all set, right? Maybe not. Rookie wideout Malcolm Kelly has been impressive during training camp and could challenge Antwaan Randle El for the spot opposite Santana Moss.

Kelly has looked polished and focused. Catching most everything thrown in his direction and seemingly learning the offense quickly, he could be on his way to bucking the trend of rookie receivers not contributing much in their rookie campaigns.

Fellow second-round pick WR Devin Thomas has shown flashes of the skills that had him listed as the top wideout in the 2008 draft, but he has looked confused at times, and with a hamstring injury sidelining him for a significant portion of training camp, he is not likely to crack the starting lineup by opening day.

So the backups are the ones to watch. Veteran wideout and special-teams ace James Thrash has had yet another strong camp, and figures to have an inside track on one of the backup spots.       

Thomas is likely to get a spot on the opening-day roster by default, which leaves one or two openings for another wideout to make the active roster. Fifth-year man Billy McMullen has earned praise throughout camp for making plays at every given opportunity, and he could be on his way to finally earning some playing time.

Holdover Anthony Mix has also looked sharp in camp, and having proven himself on special teams last season, after being signed away from the NY Giants practice squad, he stands a good chance of making the roster this year.

Watch these guys closely on special teams, as that may well be the key for earning a roster spot. Rookie Horace Gant has also looked good in camp. Perhaps a practice-squad spot will open for him.

The backups along the offensive line are another key for the Redskins in 2008. Rookies Chad Rinehart and Andrew Crummey have been notables during camp. Both have shown themselves to be aggressive (Rinehart earning a reputation for taking his man to the ground and keeping him there) and will get plenty of playing time this week.

While Rinehart has looked much more polished than Crummey, both of these players could push veterans Jason Fabini and Todd Wade for the primary backup roles. These four are to be watched closely.

While Jason Campbell has easily been the best quarterback in camp so far, the No. 2 and No. 3 spots could be something to watch.

It’s not likely there will be any surprises here, but veteran Todd Collins has not looked comfortable in camp and has not thrown the ball particularly well. He is likely going to be the No. 2 quarterback heading into the regular season, but a strong showing from rookie Colt Brennan would be nice to see.

The running backs are set, so there'll be no real competition here. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are one and two, respectively, while special-teams standout and kick returner Rock Cartwright is likely the No. 3 man at running back. Marcus Mason could push Cartwright for the spot, but he will need a very strong showing on special teams to accomplish that feat.

Tight end is not a question mark either, with Pro Bowler Chris Cooley as the starter. Todd Yoder has been a reliable backup, and rookie Fred Davis is almost guaranteed a spot. The only real question at this position is how many TEs will the Redskins carry on the active roster.

If the answer is only two, then Yoder may be out, as Davis has much more upside potential. But Davis will need to elevate his game, as he has not been very consistent during training camp.

The fullback spot belongs to Mike Sellers. The man is an absolute beast. But the Redskins don’t have a known quantity backing him up. They also don’t have any competition going for the backup fullback position.

Nehemiah Broughton is the only other fullback listed on the training-camp roster, so the question is: Will they even keep a backup fullback? Broughton will need a strong showing on special teams to prove he is worth keeping.

The punting competition is another key for the Redskins. I am including the punters today because a good punter can be as much an offensive weapon as a defensive weapon.

Field position is key for any offense, just as it is for the defense. Rookie Durant Brooks is trying to supplant veteran Derrick Frost. According to head coach Jim Zorn and special-teams coach Danny Smith, they have been even to this point.

So the time to separate from each is going to be their in-game performance.

Smith has often said that Frost’s problem is not kicking the ball, but doing it consistently. His hang time is mediocre at best, and Smith is looking for one of these two to stand out with four seconds or more of consistent hang time.

Special teams will be key for every player vying for a backup spot, but several players will be a step behind if they can’t get healthy enough to get on the field during the preseason. There will be a lot of opportunities for these players to get on the field, as the starters will see very limited action this week, if any at all.

Head coach Jim Zorn has said that Jason Campbell will ONLY play when the starting offensive line is in the game, so they will likely see only one or two series this week as the projected starters are still getting into game shape. This is a great opportunity for the young offensive linemen to make a name for themselves.

The wideouts need to make plays on special teams as well as on offense in order to be noticed by coaches. So print out the rosters and take notes, 'Skins fans. While the names may not be familiar, they will be key to the upcoming season.

Part 2 where we look at the defense, can be read here.