Five key position battles to watch the remainder of the preseason


Redskins running back Silas Redd finds a hole; can he find a spot on the roster? (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — The Washington Redskins on Tuesday concluded training camp with a morning practice and now head back to Ashburn, where they will continue working through the preseason.

The Redskins entered training camp with essentially all of their starting positions determined. But a number of key positions remain unresolved.

Over the course of the next two-and-a-half weeks and three games (Aug. 18 vs. Cleveland, Aug. 23 at Baltimore, Aug. 28 at Tampa Bay), Washington’s coaches will continue to evaluate players while attempting to settle upon the best 53 players. The team must conduct its first round of cuts (down from 90 to 75) by 4 p.m. on Aug. 26, and then slash the roster to 53 by 4 p.m. on Aug. 30.

Competition remains across the board. But here’s a look at some of the post pivotal position battles remaining.

1.) Running back

As Jay Gruden said on Monday, Alfred Morris is a “slam dunk,” and Roy Helu Jr. is essentially a lock as well. But the coach said he’s waiting for another player to step up. He was directing those comments at Evan Royster, Chris Thompson, Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd. For now, Helu has the third-down back job. Coaches see him as the most well-rounded and reliable of the bunch. But Thompson and Seastrunk are both slightly faster, shiftier runners, which could better serve the team in the change-of-pace capacity, and on screen passes. Thompson hasn’t been able to stay healthy, though, and Seastrunk has a lot to learn as a pass-catcher. Royster is smooth, but hasn’t handled a lot of third-down back duties. Redd looked good late in the preseason opener, but he was going against third-stringers, and other players who won’t be in the league in a couple of weeks. For these players, pass protection and special teams play is just as important as is the ability to run and catch. It’s hard to imagine the team taking four running backs plus a fullback (Darrel Young does well as a receiver and a blocker). But could someone shine enough to convince Gruden & Co. that four is the magic number?

2.) Inside linebacker

The Redskins like Keenan Robinson at the ‘mike’ and Perry Riley at the ‘jack.’ Jim Haslett said after seeing Robinson (a third-year player essentially entering his second season because he missed all of last year with injury) in the opener that he believes the Texas product will develop into “a heck of a football player.” Riley led the team in tackles last season and has drawn praise for improvements made this offseason. But who plays behind them? Second-year linebacker Will Compton (a practice squad member last season), eight-year veterans Adam Hayward and Akeem Jordan and fifth-year pro Darryl Sharpton all are battling for two — and possibly three — backup spots. But this isn’t just a backup inside linebacker job. These players also will be used as key special teams contributors. Hayward appears to have a lock on his spot. Gruden named him a preseason special teams captain. Compton must show he can play both inside positions (doing well versus both the run and pass) and compete on special teams. Coaches like him, but he’s inexperienced. Sharpton is a violent player that coaches love. Jordan has a lot of experience, and has started in Philadelphia and Kansas City. But he appears to be the least athletic. This could be a tough call.

3.) Wide receiver

The Redskins know that Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts will have key roles in their offense. But the final three positions (and you never know, perhaps a fourth) remain up for grabs. The contestants: 14-year veteran Santana Moss, third-year pro Aldrick Robinson, second-year player Nick Young Williams and rookies Ryan Grant, Lee Doss, Rashad Lawrence, Cody Hoffman and first-year player Rashad Ross. (For now, Leonard Hankerson remains out of the mix because he’s still rehabbing from last fall’s ACL surgery. He’s getting close, however. But he could open the season on the PUP list). Gruden has spoken highly of Moss and his contributions on and off the field. He has the versatility to play at any receiver position, and he looks fresh, sharp and effective. Gruden also has raved about his fifth-round pick, Grant, saying he looks like he’s been playing in the NFL for 10 years. Coaches love his route-running ability, the way he uses his hands, and his smarts. Robinson is showing that he has developed into more than just a deep threat. It will could be hard for Williams, Ross, Doss, Lawrence and Coffman to overtake any of those aforementioned players. But, with strong performances in the preseason, you never know.

4.) Cornerback

DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson will start, but the team still must find the best option at nickelback, which given the number of three-receiver sets NFL teams use, is almost a starting role. E.J. Biggers seems to have the edge here. He got a head start on Tracy Porter because Porter spent the offseason rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Biggers has proven more durable than Porter over the course of his career. Porter got off to a slow start, but he appears to be improving. Fourth-round pick Bashaud Breeland, third-year veterans Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford and undrafted rookie Bryan Shepherd are all battling for the fourth/fifth spot. Special teams play and versatility will go a long way toward helping the young players earn roster spots. That’s almost the only way they will get on the field this year. Breeland has proven to be a physical and willing tackler, and coaches see him as a larger piece of the puzzle next year. Crawford is coming back from knee reconstruction, but hopes his punt returning abilities help his case, although Andre Roberts appears to be the top man for that job. Minnifield has practice squad eligibility left, and that could be his best hope. He and Shepherd will try to show coaches otherwise, however.

5.) Safety

Brandon Meriweather will start at strong safety, and Ryan Clark is locked in at free safety. But the depth at this position is shaky at best. Given Meriweather’s history (time missed due both to injury and suspensions) and Clark’s age (he turns 35 this year), Washington needs reliable options. But, they don’t seem to have that. Coaches thought second-year pro Phillip Thomas had the potential to work his way into the rotation at strong safety and possibly start down the road. But he missed all of last season with injury, and has missed the last week-and-a-half with a hamstring injury. Bacarri Rambo (also in his second year) must show he has cured last year’s tackling woes, and that he also has improved in pass coverage. Trenton Robinson is a valuable special teams contributor, but hasn’t received many opportunities on defense. Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith is entering his fourth season and has familiarity with this system because of his time in Pittsburgh. He has good size, but is only five days into his time with the Redskins. But he will try to overtake some of the other players on the roster.

Other positions to watch – Place-kicking duties remain up for grabs. It’s Kai Forbath vs. Zach Hocker. Punter: Robert Malone vs. Blake Clingan. Backup guard features 2012 third-round pick Josh LeRibeus vs. 2014 third-rounder Spencer Long (also it’s possible both could make it depending on the number of linemen kept). And backup tackle features 2012 sixth-rounder Tom Compton vs. 2014 third-rounder Morgan Moses (but both have struggled this camp, so it’s hard to say who has the lead here).

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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