In just more than a week, the Washington Redskins will move to the next phase of their offseason program. Phase Three features a total of 10 days of practices, known as Organized Team Activities or OTAs, where 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. They’re classified as non-contact, so tackling isn’t allowed, but the players still can get in a fair amount of action.
Rookies will join their veteran teammates on the field, and these sessions will provide a bit of a preview for some of the position battles we’ll see in training camp.
Here’s a rundown of the positions where veterans could find themselves looking over their shoulders because of the addition draft picks or college free agents:
Rob Jackson and Brandon Jenkins couldn’t have been too thrilled about the selection of Trent Murphy, because based on Jay Gruden’s insight, the Redskins plan to work Murphy into the mix this season in the same role that Jackson and Jenkins previously held. Jim Haslett hopes to use Murphy to spell Orakpo or Kerrigan here and there, and in certain situations, he’ll get them on the field together. Jackson has experience on his side, and with Murphy lining up in Kerrigan’s spot during rookie minicamp, it’s possible that Jackson still sees action as Orakpo’s backup. But Jenkins – a fifth-round pick last season – could find snaps hard to come by, just as he did last season. Coaches hoped to use him as a situational pass rusher last season, but he did poorly on special teams, so Washington couldn’t take up a game-day roster spot for a backup that couldn’t help in multiple areas. Murphy is willing and able to help in any area he’s asked, and has a bigger long-term upside than both Jackson and Jenkins. Jackson must show he can remain effective, and Jenkins must display signs of growth.
A starter the past two years, Tyler Polumbus returns, and 2012 sixth-rounder Tom Compton had hoped to compete at that spot. But the selection of Morgan Moses changes things. The Virginia product could wind up contending for that starting position as a rookie. Initially Polumbus will likely continue to get the first-team work while Chris Foerster coaches Moses up on the second unit. If he makes strides, we could see a full-on competition between Polumbus and Moses by the time training camp rolls around. Meanwhile, Compton will fight to remain relevant. It does help him that he worked as a swing tackle last season and saw some action here and there in games on jumbo packages, special teams and on a couple snaps with left tackle Trent Williams banged up.
Spencer Long came in and impressed coaches enough at the rookie minicamp to prompt Gruden to declare that the third-round pick out of Nebraska will compete “right away.” The Redskins have Chris Chester penciled in as the starter for what would mark a third straight year. But he must show he can bounce back from last season’s struggles. Long will look to unseat him. Meanwhile, Adam Gettis – the 2012 draft pick, who has worked the past two seasons as Chester’s backup, despite not taking a game snap on offense – could find himself in a pickle. Josh LeRibeus already was put on notice, because earlier this offseason, the Redskins signed Shawn Lauvao to take over at left guard, and Mike McGlynn to serve as a backup guard and center.
The Redskins signed Tracy Porter, and re-signed E.J. Biggers with plans of having those two compete for the role of third corner behind DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson. However, Porter still is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so for now, Biggers will get the nod covering slot receivers in OTAs. Meanwhile Richard Crawford, who missed all of last season following knee reconstruction, and Chase Minnifield, who spent most of the year on the practice squad, aim to carve out roles for themselves. But the addition of fourth-round pick Bashaud Breeland makes things interesting. The Redskins took him with the idea that he could help on special teams this year while they groom him for the nickel back role next season. Breeland welcomes the chance to compete on special teams, but also hopes to prove himself as a quick learner, and get on the field here and there on defense as well. Minnifield hasn’t excelled on special teams, so that hurts him. Crawford did serve as a punt returner the second half of his rookie year, but it’s hard to say how effective he’ll be as he comes off of surgery.
Backup wide receiver
There’s no question the starters are Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, with slot man Andre Roberts joining them in frequently-used three-receiver sets. But the spots behind them remain up for grabs. Santana Moss had been the slot guy, but now returns on a non-guaranteed deal and will work to compete at whatever spot he can. Aldrick Robinson had served as the deep threat and backup to Garcon, but hasn’t been the most consistent or versatile guy in the past. Leonard Hankerson has seen some time in the slot, but might not fully recover from anterior cruciate ligament surgery until late July/early August. Fifth-round pick Ryan Grant and undrafted free agent Cody Hoffman will push veteran teammates who are on the bubble. Grant doesn’t have the speed that Robinson has, but he’s bigger, and he’s more versatile with the ability to play on special teams, which Robinson does not. Last weekend, Grant lined up both on the outside, and in the slot. He also served as a jammer and gunner on special teams. Gruden praised Grant, saying he played like a 10-year veteran at the minicamp. Meanwhile, Hoffman is the biggest receiver on the roster at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and he too plays special teams, having stood out in college as a return man. He also is a precise route runner with good hands, according to Gruden. The veterans could have to work extremely hard to fend off these two rookies.
Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and Chris Thompson all struggled to distinguish themselves as the change-of-pace back coaches sought to pair with Alfred Morris. So the Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk in the sixth round. Gruden says because of his speed, Seastrunk can make an immediate impact at least as a runner because of his speed and elusiveness. Pass-catching and protection will require some work, but Seastrunk believes he will quickly catch up to his veteran teammates and push them for playing time. Thompson, if he can stay healthy, could also threaten Helu and Royster’s roster spot, as could undrafted free agent Silas Redd. Helu and Royster will try to rely on their experience, and also display improved blocking skills with the young pups nipping at their heels.
Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen still lead the way – Reed as the explosive, versatile receiving threat, and Paulsen as the reliable veteran who excels as a blocker, and also does well with yards after the catch. Niles Paul stands out because of his special teams abilities. Ted Bolser – a seventh-round pick out of Indiana – could have a hard time unseating any of these veterans, but he’ll try to shake off the struggles from rookie minicamp, and prove himself as a versatile route-runner while also working to develop as a blocker.
Kai Forbath has proved himself as a reliable field goal kicker, but leg strength remains an issue on kickoffs. As a result, Washington drafted kicker Zach Hocker in the seventh round with plans of staging a competition between the veteran and strong-legged rookie. Gruden acknowledged that rookie kickers rarely experience success in the NFL, but special teams coach Ben Kotwica was intrigued by Hocker enough to convince the Redskins to use a draft pick on the Arkansas product. This kicker battle will last throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason, and Gruden says the team will go with the best leg, and that he would prefer not to carry one kicker for field goals and another as a kickoff specialist.
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