Well, it’s just about that time. In just three more days, the Washington Redskins hit the practice fields for training camp.
Rookies reported last week for classroom and conditioning work, and this week veterans (and this reporter) return from their vacations, and put their noses to the grind.
Leading up to Thursday’s training camp kickoff, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest question areas facing the Redskins. Today’s paper features a story from Mark Maske on the tight end position, where Fred Davis aims to redeem himself from last year’s late-season troubles, and where Chris Cooley and Niles Paul aim to earn key roles in the offense.
Now for some questions facing the Mike Shanahan’s offensive line, which was hampered last season by injuries, a suspension and lack of depth.
1) Can LG Kory Lichtensteiger return to form?
The Redskins’ line got off to a solid start last season, but Lichtensteiger’s season-ending injury in Week 6 triggered struggles that lasted the remainder of the year as Will Montgomery briefly moved from center to left guard, only to move back to center after Erik Cook struggled at center. Tyler Polumbus and Mo Hurt also saw time at guard with mixed results.
The Redskins hope Lichtensteiger, who has played in this zone blocking scheme since getting his start under Shanahan in Denver, can regain full strength and be ready to go around the start of training camp. In the meantime, Polumbus saw the bulk of the first-team work at left guard during OTAs, but it remains to be seen if Lichtensteiger’s surgically repaired knee has indeed fully healed, or if Polumbus – or someone else – will have to be the answer at left guard.
2) Can the Redskins count on RT Jammal Brown?
Brown for a second straight season had his season prematurely ended by his bad hip, which was operated on in 2009. Shanahan said at the end of the 2011 campaign that the former Pro Bowl tackle needed a great offseason to remain with the team. After OTAs, the coach said that yoga had helped improve Brown’s flexibility and that the coaches felt much better about his capabilities. The Redskins also passed on drafting a right tackle with a high pick. Brown says he feels much better and is ready to return to Pro Bowl form … but he said that last year as well. How will his hip respond to a rigorous training camp? If not, is Willie Smith, who was inconsistent as an undrafted rookie, or Polumbus capable of playing at a high level? Or, will Washington have to make another addition at some point this season to solve their starting right tackle questions?
3) Can LT Trent Williams perform like a franchise left tackle – on and off the field?
The first draft pick of the Mike Shanahan era, Williams enters his third season and has yet to consistently show he is indeed the franchise left tackle that Redskins brass believe he can be. He had ups and downs early last season, and then began playing at his best just as he was slapped with a four-game suspension for failing multiple drug tests. Williams says he has learned his lesson and vows to become a better player and leader as he protects Robert Griffin III’s blind side this year. Can he avoid the inconsistencies and discipline problems on the field that have plagued him at times? Can he make wise decisions and avoid what would be a year-long suspension as a result of failing another drug test?
4) Has overall depth improved?
Time will tell. The Redskins entered last season without a single veteran backup interior lineman, and then paid the price when Lichtensteiger went down. Likewise, Sean Locklear was the only veteran tackle until the team later picked up Polumbus, who saw time at guard and tackle. Then-undrafted rookie Willie Smith took over for the suspended Williams late in the year, and he should benefit from that playing time, as should Polumbus if called upon. But it’s hard to say that either are quality NFL starters just yet. Hurt got better late in the season, but still must improve his strength. He saw time at tackle in OTAs, and versatility could help him. But the team is counting on two other young interior linemen to improve the line. Washington selected Josh LeRibeus out of SMU in the third round, and Adam Gettis from Iowa in the fourth, in hopes that they can upgrade depth and be groomed into future starters. The team also spent a late pick on tackle Tom Compton. LeRibeus spent much of the OTAs learning the center position, but also figures to see time at both guard positions during training camp. Gettis was regarded as one of Iowa’s top linemen, but will go through growing pains as he learns both guard positions. There isn’t an extreme increase in the experience department, but Gettis and LeRibeus help improve the talent level.
5) How much can Griffin help mask problems on the line?
No doubt, Griffin’s impressive mobility and speed will help keep opponents off-balance as Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan dials up option plays, bootlegs and draws for Griffin. And Griffin will be able to help turn busted plays into positives. But, it’s not a good thing if he has to run often. As Chris Cooley said in June, Griffin will help mask some things, but the Redskins can’t expect him to make up for a lot of their deficiencies, and instead, his teammates must assume the responsibility of curing their weaknesses. For Griffin to succeed, this offensive line has to keep him upright, because he doesn’t appear to be built to withstand pounding after pounding. His mobility could help mask deficiencies early on as this line gels. But that shouldn’t be counted on as the answer for the Redskins’ inconsistent line. Another area to monitor is the exchanges between Montgomery and Griffin. Montgomery, who was re-signed this offseason, struggled with consistency when it came to shotgun snaps. And Griffin still is working to become completely comfortable taking snaps under center. It doesn’t matter how mobile a quarterback is if he and the center struggle with their exchanges.
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