Five pressing questions facing the Redskins as offseason workouts begin

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III will work to improve this offseason. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Today marks the start of the Redskins’ offseason workout program, and for Jay Gruden, his coaches and many of his players, it has seemed like an eternity for this day to get here. Now the coaches can begin discussing plays, techniques, philosophies and strategy with their players. And in a couple of weeks, they can get on the field in a limited capacity. The action will increase as the spring goes on. Right now, a fair amount of questions hover over this team.

Here are five of the most pressing areas of uncertainty.

1. Where do last year’s injured players stand?

The Redskins were counting on a handful of young players to contribute last season, but injuries limited their impact, and in some cases, robbed them of the entire 2013 campaign. Safety Phillip Thomas (foot), tight end Jordan Reed (concussions) and running back Chris Thompson (shoulder) – all second-year players – have fully recovered and will try to make a strong impression on coaches in these offseason workouts. Third-year pro Richard Crawford is trying to work his way back after tearing knee ligaments and missing all of the season. The same goes for wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who missed the final six games. The Redskins might not know where either stands until late this summer. Also working his way back from offseason surgery: defensive end Stephen Bowen. Washington invested money in that position, re-signing Chris Baker and signing free agent Jason Hatcher, but would like to keep Bowen in the mix to make for a stronger defensive line rotation. Microfracture surgery is no easy procedure to come back from, however. It’s unclear exactly where Bowen stands in his recovery right now. The original prognosis called for a six-month recovery. That would put him back on the field by the later portion of the offseason program.

2. Do the young linemen have anything to offer?

Washington used a third-round pick on guard Josh LeRibeus in 2012, and he saw limited action that year (playing most extensively in the playoff loss to Seattle). Last season, he reported for the offseason program tipping the scales at about 40 pounds heavier than he should have. He never suited up for a game all year. Fellow 2012 draft picks Adam Gettis (guard, fifth round) and Tom Compton (tackle, sixth round) played a couple of snaps here and there last year, but also remain mysterious. There are lingering questions about LeRibeus’s work ethic, and some within the organization wonder if he’ll ever mount to anything. Gettis and Compton have earned more confidence from their coaches, but remain in need of development. How much? It’s hard to say. All three can help themselves in these two weeks of workouts, during the individual and unit drills that will follow, and the voluntary minicamp that will take place a week before the draft. If they don’t have a good showing, the Redskins likely will use picks on their replacements.

3. How quickly can Robert Griffin III pick up the offense?

The Redskins know Griffin is a smart guy. Remember, he finished his degree a year early and had no problem picking up the playbook as a rookie. However, that offense was tailored to his strengths and had similarities to what he ran at Baylor. When Washington shifted to more of a drop-back passing attack last season, Griffin struggled some in scanning the field, reading defenses and making quick decisions, and foes had a better feel for his tendencies. Rehab stunted Griffin’s growth last season. But now he’s fully healthy and desperately wants to prove he can bounce back and regain his effectiveness. He, Jay Gruden and Sean McVay will spend countless hours together working on his understanding of the new offense (it will have a lot of similarities, thanks to McVay), the terminologies and NFL defenses. They’ll stress strong fundamentals and refine Griffin’s techniques. Later this spring, Gruden plans to dump the whole play book on Griffin, and then they’ll see how much he absorbs, what portions of it work best, and what elements they are better off going without. This will be an offseason of experimentation.

4. Where do things stand in the secondary?

Brandon Meriweather  and Ryan Clark presumably will start at strong and free safety, respectively, and late last month in Orlando, Gruden said he’s hoping David Amerson is ready to start at cornerback opposite Hall. Tracy Porter and E.J. Biggers would then compete for that oft-used third corner spot. During this month’s classroom sessions and on-field work, Amerson must show  his understanding of the game has improved. If he’s not quite there yet, plans could change. Chase Minnifield spent the bulk of the season on the practice squad. He’ll want to show he too has improved and has something to offer. Otherwise, Redskins brass could look to the draft to improve at cornerback. The same goes for safety, where Thomas is trying to make up for lost time, where Bacarri Rambo can hopefully show he learned how to tackle over the winter. If those two second-year players struggle, draft picks also could be devoted to the safety position.

5. Who assumes the main leadership role?

A strong leadership presence within the locker room ranks among the keys to success for any team, but especially with a first-year head coach and the addition of a player such as DeSean Jackson, whose tenure in Philadelphia was marked by impressive performances and uneven relationships with teammates and coaches. Jackson can improve this offense significantly, but not if he has attitude problems. Gone is London Fletcher, but captains Griffin, Trent Williams, Barry Cofield, DeAngelo Hall and Bowen remain. Clark also will likely help in this capacity. They all must step up. Griffin wants to, and this offseason, he led a group of skill position players through a week or workouts in Arizona. He aims to serve as a positive influence for Jackson. Hall wants to assume a greater leadership role as well, and has said he’ll not only strive to provide that presence on the defense to replace Fletcher, but that he also will take Jackson under his wing. Both believe that Jackson will not be a problem and will fit into the locker room and the team just fine. But he’s not the only player in need of mentoring. The Redskins need a united front as they move on from 3-13 campaign filled with turmoil.

Have a football question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Coverage from The Post:

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