Thursday, July 29, 2010
With Redskins training camp opening Thursday afternoon, we continue our countdown of the most pressing issues facing the team:
No. 5: Special teams
With last year's specialists all chased from the roster, who will anchor the Redskins' special teams?
While so much focus this offseason has been on quarterback Donovan McNabb and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, some key personnel from last season's roster -- Shaun Suisham, Hunter Smith, Antwaan Randle El, Rock Cartwright -- have departed. Fantasy team owners might not be drooling over those players, but each served a vital function on special teams. As training camp opens, there are questions about their replacements.
Kicker Graham Gano has all of four career field goals. Punter Josh Bidwell is facing no competition in training camp. And the team won't decide who will return punts and kickoffs until the preseason games get underway.
Prediction: Cartwright saw his kick return numbers slide for the fourth straight season, and Randle El struggled mightily on punt returns. Changes in these areas are welcome for most fans. In camp, there's open competition for both return jobs, and the Redskins likely will consider wide receiver Bobby Wade, running back Ryan Torain, cornerback Justin Tryon, wide receiver Terrence Austin, wide receiver Brandon Banks, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, wide receiver Santana Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall -- any of whom should be an upgrade.
As for Gano, with so little experience, he could be on a short leash. Though he's the only kicker expected to start camp, Gano's job security will disappear quickly if coaches don't like what they see in preseason games, and the Redskins will waste little time before checking the market foravailable kickers.
No. 4: Receiver questions
Will Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly finally emerge as an impact No. 2 wide receiver?
Beginning their third seasons in the league, Thomas and Kelly could both be at a career crossroads. The Redskins drafted them in the hope of filling their longtime need for productive big targets in the passing game, and they showed some flashes in 2009 after disappointing rookie seasons.
Kelly opened last season as the starter opposite top wideout Santana Moss, but was demoted in favor of Thomas because former head coach Jim Zorn was dissatisfied with his route running.
Coach Mike Shanahan apparently has doubts about the third-year players as well, prompting the Redskins to bring in veterans Joey Galloway and Bobby Wade to compete with them.
Prediction: Thomas is among the most well-conditioned wideouts in the league and has stretch-the-field speed. Kelly was miscast in Zorn's offense and missed most of his first season because of knee problems, so he has struggled to this point. Thomas seems to be in a better position to take a step forward in Shanahan's first season.
No. 3: Backfield logjam
Which Pro Bowl runner on the Redskins' roster -- Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson or Willie Parker -- will emerge as the team's top back?