Phillip Thomas could compete for a starting job at safety. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Washington Redskins officials believe that they have two young players on their roster that ideally would fill pressing needs on offense and defense. But because of injuries that robbed them of most or all of their rookie seasons, both running back Chris Thompson and safety Phillip Thomas remain mysteries.

The Redskins have their workhorse running back in Alfred Morris. But coaches believe that a shifty, speedy, pass-catching back would add another element to the offense while also lightening Morris’s load. Thompson – a fifth-round pick out of Florida State – would seem to fit that bill.

On defense, Brandon Meriweather returns at one safety position. But the other spot remains up for grabs. Bacarri Rambo, Trenton Robinson and Jose Gumbs all return. But the belief is that Thomas – a fourth-round pick out of Fresno State – is more talented than any of them.

However, the Redskins got only limited looks at both Thomas and Thompson last season. Thomas suffered a Lisfranc injury in the preseason opener and missed all of his rookie campaign. General manager Bruce Allen said last week that Thomas, who had a solid offseason and training camp, would have likely started for Washington had he been healthy.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Thomas remains on target to return in time for offseason workouts, and the Redskins believe that his addition could possibly help upgrade their secondary.

“We have Thomas coming back, so that’s exciting,” coach Jay Gruden said on Wednesday. He later added. “We have confidence he’s going to get back, but we haven’t seen enough. I haven’t seen him move around or run around. [Head trainer] Larry [Hess] says he’s doing a fine job of rehabbing. We’re hoping he’ll be ready to go.”

But only time will tell if Thomas – coming off of what is a serious injury – can recapture the form that made him a first-team all-American and one of the nation’s leaders interceptions while in college.

Chris Thompson Chris Thompson could help the offense with his speed. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Thompson also is expected to return to full strength after missing 12 games because he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Thompson spent the offseason program rehabbing from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him much of his senior season at Florida State. He then made the 53-man roster thanks largely to a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the preseason.

The Redskins never used the 5-foot-8, 187-pound Thompson on offense. He was used as a punt returner – something he hadn’t done since high school – and struggled. Then injury cut his season short.

Redskins coaches liken Thompson’s potential and skill set to that of Darren Sproles, and believe he has much to offer. But, it’s all a matter of health for Thompson, who missed time as a junior with a broken back and hasn’t played a full season since he was a college sophomore.

“[He is] coming along good. I’m excited to see him,” Gruden said of Thompson, who this week is training in Arizona with quarterback Robert Griffin III and teammates. “I remember him from at Florida State. I actually graded him coming out, and he was one of the most exciting backs, I thought. But he had a couple of injury issues at Florida State and he’s a guy who has to stay healthy and do his best to get on the field so we can see what he can do. Interesting guy. He’s very, very exciting when he gets the ball in his hands, but it’s hard to get the ball in his hands when he’s not out there.”

Because of the seriousness of Thomas’s injury, and Thompson’s extensive history, the Redskins  understand that they can’t set lofty expectations for either player this far in advance of the season.

As insurance policies, they still could look to add players at both safety and running back in the draft, and possibly free agency, as the team remains interested in former Steeler Ryan Clark.

But if they can indeed avoid the injury bug and play up to their potential, Thompson and Thomas could solve two long-term needs.

Have a football question? E-mail Mike Jones at with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

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