There won’t be much obvious competitive drama as the Washington Redskins begin training camp this week; established starters are in place at most positions. Starters return at wide receiver, offensive line, tight end and linebacker. Alex Smith replaces Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and free agent signee Paul Richardson was brought in to start at receiver opposite Josh Doctson. Any changes at those spots will be a surprise or brought on by injury.
The No. 1 story line before the season begins is Smith’s acclimation to the offense.
There are a few positions, however, that are up for grabs as younger players look for bigger roles and a 10-year-veteran defensive back plans to earn a starting job in his first season with his new team.
Here are the top position battles to watch when the Redskins begin training camp in Richmond on Thursday:
The Redskins made no secret about the need to improve the run game during the offseason. The team ranked No. 28 in the league with 90.5 rushing yards per game in 2017. Doug Williams, Washington’s senior vice president of player personnel, repeatedly talked about bringing in another back. Expectations were for the organization to select a running back early from a deep 2018 draft class. The Redskins may have the steal of the draft in Derrius Guice, who slid to No. 59 overall because of character concerns. The LSU product has been a model citizen since being drafted and is competing for the starting job. The expectation is for Guice, a powerful runner with crisp cuts and good elusiveness in a 5-foot-11, 225-pound frame, to form a 1-2 punch with Chris Thompson. A sixth-year veteran, Thompson is returning from a fractured right fibula. He is one of Coach Jay Gruden’s favorite weapons in the pass game and on third downs.
Guice has the fresh sheen of a high draft pick, but Rob Kelley is still fighting to keep his job. The third-year veteran ended last season on injured reserve after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in addition to dealing with a sprained ankle. He led the team with 704 rushing yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2016. Kelley received most of the first-team reps early in summer workouts, but Guice took on more by the end of summer.
The Redskins are looking for two new starters after cornerback Bashaud Breeland left in free agency and nickelback Kendall Fuller was dealt as part of the trade that brought Smith to Washington. The pass defense ranked No. 9 in the league last season, allowing 213.8 yards per game. Fuller was ranked the No. 6 cornerback in the league by Pro Football Focus last season; Breeland was ranked No. 69.
The Redskins added seven defensive backs during the offseason, including free agent Orlando Scandrick and draft picks Troy Apke, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander (supplemental draft).
Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Scandrick are the three favorites to fill the two spots. Scandrick has the versatility to work both outside and at nickel. Dunbar’s progression has continued after switching from receiver as a rookie in 2015, and he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract in January. The organization has high expectations for Moreau after drafting him in the third round in 2017.
Scandrick started all 11 games he played with the Cowboys last season, his final season of a 10-year tenure in Dallas. He had 38 tackles and three passes defended.
Dunbar had 35 tackles, eight passes defended and an interception in 15 games last season. He also made four starts.
Moreau had 14 tackles in 16 games as a rookie and one pass defended.
Josh Norman remains the other starting cornerback.
D.J. Swearinger is back to start at safety, but Deshazor Everett and Montae Nicholson are poised for a bit of competition during camp. Everett just signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal in March before he hit restricted free agency, but the team invested a 2017 fourth-round pick in Nicholson.
Nicholson had 24 tackles, an interception and two passes defended in eight games as a rookie. He started six of those.
Everett posted a career-high 62 tackles and five passes defended in 14 games last season. He also made a career-high eight starts.
Everett is the fourth-year veteran with a new deal, but Nicholson is a young draft pick expected to shoulder a larger role in 2018.
The Redskins’ last two first-round picks, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, should start from Day 1, but the other end opposite Allen could be up in the air.
Stacy McGee, Matt Ioannidis, Ziggy Hood and Anthony Lanier could all be in the mix.
McGee made 10 starts and had 44 tackles in his first season with the Redskins.
Ioannidis had 27 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in 14 games last season while making 10 starts. His strength is as a pass rusher.
Hood started 13 games but played a significant number of snaps out of position at nose tackle. He had 25 tackles and half a sack.
Lanier totaled 14 tackles and five sacks in his second season after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama A&M.
The Redskins’ run defense ranked last (No. 32) in the league last season, allowing 134.1 yards per game, and the unit tied for No. 7 with 42.0 sacks.
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