Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; D04
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?
A concussion cut short Portis's ineffective 2009 season. He was in poor condition from the outset, many of his teammates said. Coach Mike Shanahan approved the signings of Johnson and Parker this offseason, in part to provide the first real competition Portis has faced since Shanahan traded him from Denver to Washington before the 2004 season.
Many in the NFL considered Johnson the league's top power back during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but Johnson's career has been derailed by off-the-field issues and legal problems. After three consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 yards at Pittsburgh, Parker was slowed by injuries the past two seasons and moved on in the hope of prolonging his career.
The team also has extended a contract offer to former Philadelphia Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook.
Prediction: Portis holds off the challengers and has a productive season. He trimmed down to about 217 pounds after playing at more than 230 pounds last season, sources said. The eight-year veteran is determined to show he's still capable of rushing for 1,500 yards. Johnson showed enough during the offseason program to likely earn a spot alongside him, which would leave Parker as the odd man out.No. 2: Trent Williams
Will Trent Williams report to camp on time and how quickly will he develop over the course of training camp?
The Redskins passed on flashier names -- and even linemen who were more highlytouted -- to select Williams with the No. 4 overall pick. Shanahan believes he's a good fit for the team's zone-blocking scheme. While the first minicamp was an eye-opener for Williams, his teammates have reported significant progress in the past several weeks.
But coaches have stressed that a rookie can't afford to miss any part of training camp, which means that Williams must agree to terms and sign a contract.
Prediction: Williams has stressed that he's eager to sign and ready to get rolling. Many believe his decision to switch agents last month would smooth the negotiation process. The two sides have been talking and the safe bet is that if they don't agree to terms by Thursday afternoon, they'll get the details hammered out shortly thereafter.
Last season, Brian Orakpo missed the first day of training camp but settled on terms late that night and reported the following day. Williams' situation shouldn't linger.
With Chris Samuels assisting the coaching staff during training camp, Williams is learning from the best. It'll be on him to translate what he learns to the playing field.
For the No. 1 story line, check Redskins Insider at http://washingtonpost.com/redskinsinsider.
Third-year player Kelly, vying for the No. 2 wide receiver position, recently suffered a hamstring injury and may sit out practice Thursday at Redskins Park, according to people familiar with the situation. The injury occurred while Kelly participated in private workouts at quarterback Donovan McNabb's Phoenix-area home.
-- Jason Reid and Rick Maese