Washington Redskins 2010: 10 preseason questions answered

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010; 10:34 PM

The Redskins' roster shrinks to 53 players Saturday. Dallas week formally begins Sunday. And the Mike Shanahan Era enters the regular season next weekend.

With the preseason finished, players might seem more familiar with the schemes and the coaches more comfortable with their personnel. But that wasn't necessarily the case five weeks ago. When the Redskins reported for training camp, much of what we had were questions. Looking back over our top questions at the start of training camp, this preseason did provide several important answers for the Redskins.


Will disgruntled, all-pro defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth report to camp in shape after skipping all but one day of Coach Mike Shanahan's first offseason program?

Verdict: Haynesworth was the story line that would not go away. He created national news from the start of training camp until the end of the preseason.

He reported to camp noticeably trimmer than he was in 2009 - about 35 pounds lighter - but he failed Shanahan's conditioning test and couldn't practice for the first nine days of training camp. He finally passed the test but was relegated to the second string for the duration of the preseason.

Haynesworth was then sidelined at the end of camp with what sources said was a bout of rhabdomyolysis, and he criticized the coach through the media for minimizing his condition.

The icy relationship between Haynesworth and Shanahan seemed to thaw late in preseason. Haynesworth took some snaps with the starters, lining up at both nose tackle and defensive end. He had his lone start of the preseason Thursday at Arizona, and was on the field for 49 of the team's 55 defensive plays.

Shanahan told reporters Haynesworth played so much because "he's got to get in football shape."

Haynesworth may not have been pleased. "I have no comment," he said as a reporter approached him in the locker room.

Bottom line: The Redskins are a better team with Haynesworth playing on the defensive line. Regardless of his feelings for Shanahan, he apparently now likes the defensive scheme. If the preseason is any indication, he could be a big player for the Redskins this year - but also a big distraction.


Will left tackle Trent Williams report to camp on time and how quickly will he develop over the course of training camp?

Verdict: Williams missed only one day of camp, agreeing to a deal worth $60 million over six years that included more than $36.5 million guaranteed. Coaches were glad he didn't miss any more time because, as a rookie learning one of the most important positions on the field, he couldn't really afford to.

Coaches and teammates have raved about Williams's progress - especially his quick feet - but he struggled when he faced a formidable pass rusher in Baltimore's Terrell Suggs in the second preseason game.

Bottom line: Chris Samuels held down the left tackle job for 10 years. Williams might prove to a be Pro Bowl-caliber replacement, but he played only one season on the left side in college and it might not be fair to expect him to fill Samuels's shoes overnight.


Which Pro Bowl runner on the roster - Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson or Willie Parker - will emerge as the team's top back?

Verdict: Portis began training camp as the favorite and seemed to build on his lead with each passing day.

Portis reported to camp in shape - noticeably slimmed down from last season - and did everything asked of him. He enters the regular season excited to be back in the offense that produced the two best seasons of his career.

Johnson, meanwhile, also impressed throughout camp, likely earning his way onto the 53-man roster during practices. It was Parker who noted early in camp that there "probably can't be enough room for all of us," and he's probably the most likely of the three to be released.

Bottom line: Showing good practice speed is one thing, but 29-year-old Portis and 30-year-old Johnson, both of whom have a long line of doubters, need to show that their best years aren't behind them.


Will Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly finally emerge as an impact No. 2 wide receiver this season?

Verdict:Um, No.

Perhaps the two biggest disappointments of camp were the pair of receivers who seemed to have so much promise when they were drafted in 2008. With a strained hamstring at the outset of camp, Kelly struggled to get on the practice field and was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week. His future with the organization is up in the air.

With a hole in the starting lineup ripe for the taking, Thomas failed to show coaches that he's half the receiver he thinks he is. He didn't take the field as a receiver in the team's third preseason game and apparently is still struggling with the new offense. He caught four passes for 34 yards in Thursday's game.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb has had some troubles of his own adjusting to Kyle Shanahan's system and would benefit from an athletic receiver who can stretch the field. Anthony Armstrong, an undrafted free agent, appears to be a better option than either Kelly or Thomas.

Bottom line: If Kelly can't get healthy and Thomas can't get focused, the early jewels of the 2008 draft class both could be non-factors under Shanahan.


With last year's specialists all chased from the roster, who will anchor the Redskins' special teams?

Verdict: Coaches are pretty happy with most of the players who stepped up during training camp. Punter Josh Bidwell has shown no ill effects from the hip injury that sidelined him for all of 2009, and kicker Graham Gano finished the preseason 5 for 7 on field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder against Arizona on Thursday.

"Graham's shown improvement in practice, he's shown improvement in games," special teams coordinator Danny Smith said. "That's what gives him the opportunity to be a good player. I think he's going to be a good player in this league."

Long snapper Nick Sundberg was an early concern, but he showed marked improvement later in camp.

The Redskins gave a variety of players a chance to return punts and kickoffs during the preseason. Though Phillip Buchanon and Devin Thomas are listed atop the depth chart, coaches feel they have a few options, including rookies Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin, and might not decide on their regular season returners until next week.

Bottom line: Last season yielded few highlights on special teams, and while there's still some uncertainty in the return game, the options on the table are capable of providing more of a spark than Redskins fans are used to.


How much of an upgrade - if any - is provided by the new faces on the offensive line?

Verdict: Compared with last season's woeful and injury-riddled offensive line, this year's group might already need a Hogs-esque nickname. The bar was not set high by last year's unit.

Jammal Brown is playing right tackle for the first time since 2005, and he's still adjusting his technique. And free agent acquisition Artis Hicks has struggled at times in the preseason. But as a group, the line shows more promise than it has in recent years.

The group has done few favors for Redskins tailbacks in the run game, but pass blocking has looked better. They'll need to do better in pressure situations, though.

Bottom line: As with most teams, keeping everyone healthy will be crucial. Depth is a big concern, because there's a significant drop-off after the first five.


How will the Redskins involve both tight ends, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, in the offense?

Verdict:Very liberally.

Without many proven options at the wide receiver position and with a quarterback whose accuracy is better on short routes, the Redskins will lean heavily on their two pass-catching tight ends.

While the running game is a signature of Mike Shanahan's offenses, his son, Kyle, the Redskins' offensive coordinator, likes tinkering with the scheme to aid his receivers. Cooley and Davis should benefit, and they could spend considerable time on the field together. They've run one play in practice, apparently dubbed "Tiger," that calls for both tight ends to start on either side of the quarterback in the backfield. One runs a route, and the other stays behind to block.

Bottom line: Cooley is the preseason favorite to lead the Redskins in receptions this season.


Will Reed Doughty, Chris Horton or Kareem Moore start at safety?

Verdict: Moore had the lead on the free safety job in the offseason and didn't loosen his grip for a single day during training camp - until he got hurt.

A knee injury suffered Aug. 21 against Baltimore required arthroscopic surgery. Moore will miss at least the first two games of the regular season. It's a big loss, not only because Moore was one of the top performers in training camp, but also because he was the only natural free safety on the roster.

In his absence, Doughty and Horton moved over from the strong safety position, and Doughty likely will get the nod at free safety to start the season.

Bottom line: Coaches say the safety positions are a bit interchangeable, but losing Moore might have been the low point of the preseason.


Who will start opposite Brian Orakpo at the other outside linebacker spot in the Redskins' new 3-4 alignment?

Verdict: This was considered a fierce position battle at the outset of camp, but the depth chart never changed. Andre Carter began the preseason as the starting linebacker and he'll likely get the nod over Lorenzo Alexander when the regular season opens next weekend.

That's not to say Alexander had a bad preseason. He's atop the depth chart in a pair of nickel packages, will continue to be a key player on special teams and will see plenty of time at linebacker.

But coaches like Carter's ability to rush the edge and feel the 3-4 scheme could help him match last year's total of 11 sacks.

Bottom line: Redskins coaches like both their options, but while Carter has good instincts for the quarterback, he can be a liability in coverage at times.


Will Santana Moss be punished for his involvement with a Canadian doctor accused of administering human growth hormone to athletes?

Verdict: It does not appear any sanctions are imminent.

The Redskins' 10th-year receiver was treated by Anthony Galea, who was charged in May with smuggling and distributing human growth hormone. But when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Redskins Park on Aug. 4, he did not meet with Moss and did not appear to be in a hurry to hand down any sort of punishment.

"I don't make those determinations," Goodell said. "I like to know the facts first."

The commissioner apparently is waiting for the criminal case to proceed. Mike Shanahan has said he does not expect Moss to face any punishment once all the facts are known.

"We're following it," Goodell said. "It's obviously part of an overall criminal investigation [that] we obviously are cooperating with and following very closely. Certainly when a determination is made, we'll determine our next steps."

Bottom line: If more news surfaces midseason, the Redskins can't afford to lose their most reliable receiver for any period of time.

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