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Next man up: Several young Redskins have chances for bigger roles

Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar, shown here in 2017, has a shot at becoming a full-time starter as he enters his fourth NFL season. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The first three years of Quinton Dunbar’s NFL career have been working toward this moment, even if the Washington Redskins cornerback doesn’t want to put it that way.

He signed as an undrafted free agent wide receiver out of Florida in 2015 and quickly switched to the defensive side of the ball. Dunbar spent the next three years learning the cornerback position, and he earned a three-year extension in January. The 25-year old will now have his first true opportunity to earn a starting job going into a season.

Dunbar isn’t alone, with offseason roster moves giving several young players the chance to snatch a larger role with the team as organized team activities continue this week.

“Obviously, got a little extension, and most people would probably get complacent because they got a little money now,” Dunbar said. “I’m still the same old me. I’m still hungry for more. I’m hungry for success as a team more than anything. I’m a team guy. I feel like we owe it to D.C. We owe it to the owner. We owe it to Coach [Jay] Gruden, the way he takes care of us. We owe them wins. That’s all it’s about — winning.

“[The pressure is] the same. Every year my mind-set is winning. This is a great organization, and they take care of us as players. . . . We have to be held to a higher standard to win. Just winning, period.”

Round 2 of rookie learning experience begins in second week of OTAs

The Redskins’ secondary has had the most attrition among the team’s starting ranks during the offseason, after Nickelback Kendall Fuller was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Alex Smith deal and Bashaud Breeland signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers before failing the physical. He remains a free agent but is not expected back in Washington.

That opens two spots, and recently acquired veteran Orlando Scandrick, Dunbar and 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau are the most likely to fill them. Dunbar played in 15 games and made four starts last season. He had six games with 30 or more snaps at cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus. Moreau played in all 16 games as a rookie but had a total of just 46 cornerback snaps in a combined four games.

Gruden is working Scandrick at both nickel and cornerback during OTAs.

“When you talk about corners, you talk about measurables,” Gruden said. “[Dunbar has] got the measurables. He’s got the length. He’s got the speed. Now it’s just a matter of him getting comfortable with his coverages and, obviously, his techniques. And he’s doing a better job with that.

“[Assistants] James [Rowe] and Torrian [Gray] have done a great job with him, and Dunny has done a good job of really studying the game, not just bump-and-run, man-to-man, but different coverages, squat techniques and deep-third coverages. All that stuff, he’s doing a much better job, more comfortable in the system.”

Safety Montae Nicholson started six of the eight games in which he played as a rookie last season, but he finished the season on injured reserve after dealing with a concussion and a shoulder injury. He also has the opportunity for a bigger role despite the returns of D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett. The latter had a career-high 62 tackles and five passes defensed and signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal in March.

After dancing shirtless for the ‘cougars,’ Josh Norman is back to wearing his jersey

Cornerback Josh Norman, who is entering his third season with the Redskins and seventh in the NFL, has faith in the youngsters.

“They have to [be ready]. They have no choice,” Norman said. “This is what it is. And this is the league. Thrown into the fire. However, you want to make it or say it, it’s just what it is. Thrown into the fire. You have to do what you’re called upon in the National Football League, and they’re called upon. So they’re going to have to step up.

“Be in the moment. Relish it and capture it. There’s nothing else greater than that. Capture that moment that you’re in. You truly feel invincible. And that only compels you to do more the next week.”

Second-year linebacker Ryan Anderson is in a position similar to Nicholson’s. Anderson, who was chosen in the second round of the 2017 draft, played 14 games last season, but starting linebackers Ryan Kerrigan, Mason Foster, Preston Smith and Zach Brown are all back. The team would love for Anderson to demand more time on the field through his play.

Second-year center Chase Roullier is expected to start after he took over the job when Spencer Long went on injured reserve last season. The team let Long walk to the New York Jets in free agency, and the job is Roullier’s to lose. The sixth-round pick has the foundation of knowing the offense and can now focus on the fundamentals and playing faster.

“That’s definitely been the biggest difference, having a little more comfort with the offense and being able to go faster,” Roullier said. “There’s definitely more pressure to succeed. As a rookie, you’re coming out here just to do the best you can and find a spot on the team for yourself. Now, when I’m in the position that I’m in, it’s more about maintaining the position that you’re already in. That comes with a little bit more pressure, a little more responsibility. But you’ve got to take advantage of it and just take it in stride.”

The Redskins began their second three-day OTA session Tuesday and will conclude after next week’s practices. Veteran minicamp runs a week later from June 12 to 14 with training camp beginning July 26 in Richmond.

Norman believes the mental challenge will be the biggest obstacle for those looking to make a significant leap in the rotation.

“That’s why the game is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical,” Norman said. “You’re brought here for a reason, you know? Everybody can do what everybody can do. Some are just a little more special than others. But you’re pretty much doing the same thing. You’re here for a reason.

“All can play ball. What separates you from the next man is here [mental].”

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