It begins at the end of this month, training camps for the 2015 NFL Season. The Washington Redskins have had a new type of offseason by their standards, it was quiet and productive. The first addition may have been the most important, Washington landed one of the better General Managers in football. A man who played a huge role in building the foundations for two teams who arguably have two of the league’s best rosters. Scot McCloughan joined the Redskins in January and things changed mightily from a ‘football’ standpoint. While it remains to be seen how things work out on the field, the Redskins definitely have a made strides in changing a ‘not so desirable’ culture.
This month we’re going division by division sharing the most important and intriguing position battles that will take place in training camps around the league come the end of the month. In Washington, there are several positions in which competition will determine who plays where. That said, let’s begin!
Instead of breaking it down per position, with the league changing and many teams spending a lot of time in sub-packages, it made more sense to make it one entity. As far as the boundary corners go, at least right now it should be newly acquired Chris Culliver and last year’s standout rookie Baushad Breeland manning those spots.
Now the nickel spots will be fun as far as competition goes. With all the offseason additions, it seems most have forgotten that DeAngelo Hall is still on the roster. Obviously he’ll be coming off an injury, but if he’s competing for that nickel spot, that means the team has improved drastically on cover guys. Also in that competition will be David Amerson, Tahj Hasson, and Justin Rodgers. Ideally, if Washington has four to five guys that are interchangeable that goes a long way. If not, having two physical young corners on the outside doesn’t hurt, especially against the likes of Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr.
The safety competition will be fun as well, the two early leaders should be the new additions in Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson. The former 49er and Seahawk, like Culliver bring a different type of mentality to this secondary. It will be fast and physical if everything pans out the way it’s being projected. Goldson was a Pro Bowler in San Francisco, not so much in Tampa, but Tampa was also the same team who had the league’s best corner playing off man. Johnson would be playing on any other team if his former team didn’t have Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. He was highly sought after over the past couple of seasons, but Seattle refused to trade him.
Those two could be interchangeable which would give the backend of Washington’s defense a big advantage. After those two, it’s going to be hell to figure out who steps up as that third safety. The group is Phillip Thomas, Trenton Robinson, Duke Ihenacho, Akeem Davis, and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith. Like Amerson, this is a huge training camp for Thomas. Both players have to show something and this competition in camp will let it be known whether they’ll be a part of this team’s future or not. It’s a new talent evaluator at GM, so this is an open audition, nothing keeping them here as there are no ties to Scot. Back to the safety competition though, Robinson is interesting. The former 49er will definitely compete and can play both safety spots, he may even be a cover option in a sub-package. Ihenacho is a former starter in Denver, he should have a leg up just from experience as well. Again, Goldson and Johnson should win the two starting roles, the battle is for that third and/or sub-package safety positions.
A dark horse in this race is rookie Tevin Mitchell out of Arkanasas. While he’s extremely raw, his size (6’0, 190) and speed may allow him to get on the field sooner than expected if he can grasp the defense. He’s a perfect candidate for that sub-package DB, the tweener that can line-up anywhere in the secondary.
This competition will be fun as well, it’s easy to assume that Ryan Kerrigan and Keenan Robinson have starting jobs in this front seven. The other outside linebacker and inside backer are up for grabs. Preston Smith was taken in the second round by McCloughan, he may make a case in camp for the starting job or he may be brought along slowly a la Aldon Smith’s and Bruce Irvin’s first year in their respective systems, playing only on obvious passing downs. In addition to Smith for that job will be second year player Trent Murhpy, Jackson Jeffcoat, Houston Bates and possibly Dasman McCullum. At inside backer, it’s fair to assume that Perry Riley Jr. will win that job next to Robinson. But, it’s all about competition, especially when it comes to coverage responsibilities. In competition with Riley Jr will be Matrell Spaight, Terrance Plummer, Alonzo Highsmith, Adam Hayward, and Dyshawn Davis.
While Riley and Murhpy/Smith may have the edge on most of those players, the two that have an outside chance and should be watched are rookie Spaight and third year man Trevardo Williams. Spaight has to improve in coverage, but is a very sound option on first and second down. Williams hasn’t really found his niche in the league, the previous teams had him more as an undersized pass rusher, where he lined up as an edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme. He could be a dark horse candidate in regards to sub-packages, he hasn’t yet found his position in the league but he has good speed and decent hands. It’s up to him to make a good impression in camp.
This is a little different than the other two groups discussed above, there are five starting spots on an offensive line and the Redskins at this moment have two in Trent Williams and first round pick Brandon Scherff.
It’s on the rest of the lineman to prove who deserves the other three spots. With it being virtually an open competition, this will certainly be a fun battle. The true winner in this competition is Robert Griffin III, he’ll be playing with the best line he’s had to this point. While there aren’t any big names that stand out in this battle, at worst Griffin gets to have a good left and right tackle in Williams and Scherff. The caveat in this race is that if someone steps up and proves their capable of being a dependable right tackle, then Scherff can move inside to guard and further strengthen the line, but that’s an outside chance.
There are a ton of names in this battle, the guys that should be watched at guard are Arie Kouandjio, Spencer Long, and Josh LeRibeus. Looking back to that line the 49ers built, Scot played a role in that. The guys with the best feet and athleticism played tackle with maulers at the three interior positions. Specifically at guard, Mike Iupati who is now with the Cardinals was a subpar pass blocker, but was a beast in the run game. Those three named in this group above, are all capable of being those maulers for Washington. Couple that with Bill Callahan being the offensive line coach, that makes this competition even more exciting. No one has a foot above anyone else outside of Williams and Scherff.
It’s very possible that it could be a young offensive line starting in Week 1 for Washington, Dallas had a young line as well. Williams could be the oldest member of those five men up front. In terms of projection, I have the starting offensive line from left to right being Williams – Kouandjio -Lichensteiger – Long – Scherff. Obviously that could be way off from the group that will be named heading into Week 1, but finally a better situation than previous years for Washington.