When the Redskins walk out to the practice fields in Richmond on Thursday morning to kick off training camp, it will signal the imminent return of football season — complete with all the optimism the summer entails. There may not be a lot of high drama during this year’s camp, but there are plenty of things to keep an eye on during the team’s 20-day sojourn down south.
1. New Man in Charge
By all accounts, new Redskins coach Jay Gruden acquitted himself well during his first few months on the job, saying all the right things and establishing solid relationships with his players. But now the hard part begins: Gruden will have to install his system, make tough decisions and prepare for the enormous pressure cooker that is Redskins football. He can’t be any worse than Jim Zorn, right?
2. RGIII’s Redemption
It’s been quite a roller coaster for Robert Griffin III as Washington’s starting quarterback, but now that he’s free from the Mike Shanahan regime will he take another step forward? Griffin’s got an offense-friendly coach and an arsenal of weapons, so the onus will be on him to be the accurate, savvy passer he was during his rookie season and not the mechanically flawed one who went through a sophomore slump.
3. Has and Has-Nots
In a surprise move, Jim Haslett was retained as the Redskins’ defensive coordinator despite overseeing a porous unit that struggled with simple concepts like tackling. But Haslett is counting on a new roster of defensive coaches, improved years from linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and the development of middle linebacker Keenan Robinson to establish a strong front seven, because …
4. Safety First
The Redskins’ secondary was a disaster last season, and on paper, things aren’t much better going into training camp. Washington signed veteran Ryan Clark to shore up the safety position, but there’s a reason why the Steelers let him go. Brandon Meriweather hasn’t lived up to his potential, Bacarri Rambo had a rough rookie season and Phillip Thomas is completely raw after missing last year.
5. Line of Fire
While the offensive line cleared the way for another 1,200-yard season for running back Alfred Morris, it had issues keeping RGIII upright. The Redskins brought over left guard Shawn Lauvao and shifted Kory Lichtensteiger to center to try to fix the problems, but it feels like the only sure thing is Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. Can Josh LeRibeus finally break through at guard? Will one of the Redskins’ rookie linemen impress enough to start?
6. Receiver Roulette
After searching for an impact receiver for years, the Redskins now seem to have an embarrassment of riches at the position. Pierre Garcon led the NFL in receptions last season, DeSean Jackson has game-breaking talent and Andre Roberts can also stretch the field. Throw in tight end Jordan Reed and the receiving corps is as strong as it’s been in years. So what does this mean for veteran Santana Moss, oft-injured Leonard Hankerson or unheralded Aldrick Robinson? Someone figures to be the odd man out.
7. Special Delivery
The Redskins’ special teams units were historically awful last season. Players didn’t want to be on special teams and former coach Keith Burns’ schemes were full of holes, literally and figuratively. New coordinator Ben Kotwica brings a military background to the unit and players have responded to his enthusiasm and energy, which is a step in the right direction.
8. Hey Rookie!
Washington didn’t have a first-round pick in May’s draft, but its first two selections, linebacker Trent Murphy and right tackle Morgan Moses, have a chance to make an impact. Murphy might have the tougher road, as he needs to fill out physically. Moses has a better chance to sneak into the lineup; his long arms make him tough to block, but he needs to improve his footwork. Guard Spencer Long could take advantage of uncertainty on the line with a strong camp as well.
9. On the Mend
One of Washington’s major offseason pickups, defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, will miss the start of camp as he comes back from arthroscopic left knee surgery. His recovery bears watching because he could be a major upgrade on a line that’s been hobbled by injury. Defensive end Stephen Bowen’s status is also up in the air as he recovers from knee surgery. Reed appears healthy and a full season from the tight end could pay big dividends.
10. Just for Kicks
After a revolving door of kickers, Kai Forbath established himself with his accuracy and consistency — he finished last year with 13 straight makes. However, Forbath’s weak leg on kickoffs hurts field position, and with seventh-round pick Zach Hocker booming kicks out of the end zone in minicamp, Forbath could be in a major battle for his job.
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