The Redskins will open training camp on Thursday in Richmond, Va., with the hope of quickly incorporating new talent with maturing veterans to form a team that can return the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Washington’s offense is breaking in a new quarterback and betting on a rookie running back to win a starring role. The deep passing game needs improvement. On defense, the Redskins need to stop the run better and shore up the secondary. The progression of the following five players will have the most impact on the upcoming season.
QB Alex Smith
Everything starts with the quarterback, and the Redskins traded for an older one who lacks deep arm strength. Smith, 34, is coming off a career-best year in Kansas City with 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns with only five interceptions. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick has been steady for years but is now on his third team after San Francisco and Kansas City opted to go younger. Can Smith embrace another West Coast offense with less-than-stellar receivers? Can he find Paul Richardson down the field enough to stretch the defense? Does Smith, who is under contract through 2022, have gas left in the tank?
RB Derrius Guice
Forget about the draft-day whispers that caused Guice to drop out of the first round to No. 59 overall in the second. He has the makings of a steal. Guice looked sharp throughout offseason drills. At 224 pounds, he’s a battering ram with enough speed to get outside. And his hands seem good enough to be a reliable receiving option. But rookie seasons are often up and down. Guice’s biggest task will be to avoid hitting the rookie wall and prove he can hold on to the rock. Guice looks like he could become a key player in this offense, and a couple 100-yard games could solidify that.
WR Josh Doctson
It’s time for the 2016 first-rounder to prove himself or be sent packing next season. It’s hard to say which will happen for the receiver, though. Injured much of his first season, Doctson followed with an uneven 2017. Sure there were six TD catches, but he made only 35 receptions and had a memorable drop on a potential game-winning pass at Kansas City. The talent is there, and the Redskins are determined to let Doctson prove it with more opportunities. He needs to fight off defenders on 50/50 balls and produce in the red zone. If he gets to 50 catches and 8 TDs, his season will be a success.
DL Daron Payne
The Redskins used their first-round pick on a defensive lineman from Alabama for the second straight year. Jonathan Allen, the No. 17 pick in 2017, played well before missing the last 11 games with a foot injury. Now Payne, the 13th overall pick, arrives to plug the middle. It would be nice if he was a little taller than 6 feet 3 to block quarterback’s sight lines, but the 319-pounder is a solid run-stopper. Opponents have run up the gut the last few years on the Redskins to set up deep play-action. If Payne catches on quickly, the revamped secondary will be spared from committing to run support.
SS Montae Nicholson
The strong safety is the real question mark of the secondary. The fourth-round pick missed eight games of his rookie season last year, including the final six with a concussion. But his overwhelming self-confidence has him determined not only to return as a swift tackler, but to become the leader of a secondary that includes chatterboxes D.J. Swearinger and Josh Norman. The Redskins need Nicholson to secure a position that has seen constant turnover. With his speed, vision and hard hitting, Nicholson could shut down the middle. But he has to remain healthy.
Read more from Rick Snider: