Evan Roster carries out a fake during a 2012 game against Dallas. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

As training camp approaches, Mike Jones takes a closer look at players who find themselves competing for key roles this season, or are in position battles this preseason.

Fourth-year pro Evan Royster will find himself in a thick battle for a roster spot and role in the offense when training camp gets underway.

The leading rusher in Penn State history flashed in spot duty as a rookie, but ultimately, coaches saw him as little more than an insurance policy in 2012 and 2013. In each of the past three drafts, Washington has taken running backs.

The Redskins in 2012 found their franchise back in Alfred Morris, but they remained in search of a reliable third-down/change-of-pace back and in 2013 selected Chris Thompson to compete with Royster and his fellow 2011 draft pick Roy Helu Jr. Thompson missed the bulk of last season with injury, and so this offseason, Washington drafted Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk, and also signed undrafted rookie Silas Redd.

Royster, Helu, Thompson, Seastrunk and Redd will all try to distinguish themselves this preseason as they vie for two or possibly three roster spots.

Royster is a smooth, steady runner, who has displayed the ability to pick up yards in chunks. But he lacks the power that Morris runs with, and also doesn’t have particularly electrifying speed or elusiveness. Coaches have viewed Helu as the better pass-catcher of the two as well. Thompson and Seastrunk both fit the description of the change-of-pace back capable of providing a home-run threat. But each remain unproven both in pass protection and pass catching.

Redd (Royster’s former Penn State teammate) seemed to flash both as a runner and pass catcher here and there during offseason practices, but he too must develop in pass protection.

Royster will try to prove to coaches that his experience – he served as Morris’s primary backup in 2012 with Helu injured – and his all-around play make him a plus on the depth chart. He has a willingness to contribute on special teams as well — that’s where he saw most of his playing time during the 10 games he played in last season.

But it’s hard to say if Royster has that special ‘it factor.’ Can he offer something that none of the others do? He will try to show that he does. Additionally, he will aim to produce enough to convince coaches that he is a solid well-rounded player worthy of keeping around in case injury strikes and the team has to go with a running back by committee approach.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

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