The Washington REDSKINS (yes this is still the team name despite strange attempts like this begin the most important phase of the Jay Gruden era this upcoming Tuesday.
It's time for organized team activities or OTA's. The draft is complete, free agency has been used in a few very interesting ways and the roster for the most part is set.
The 90-man roster that is. The reality is the 53-man roster is anything but set.
With that in mind - let's take a look at some of the key "off-season" battles that will extend into training camp in Richmond and play out in some interesting ways come late August/early September.
I am going to write about what I view to be the legitimate battles, even though essentially every position is up for grabs.
Sorry, I am not breaking down Tyler Polumbus vs. Morgan Moses for right tackle. I'm not going to make any crazy proclamations but I would be stunned if Polumbus is not the right tackle in Houston to start the year. It won't even be close, barring injury. Even if Polumbus were to be injured in camp, it's much more likely that Maurice Hurt would start rather than Moses.
Sorry, he has a long way to go. The Redskins know it. It's not a secret.
There will be a battle on the offensive line however, which leads us to this --
RIGHT GUARD: Projected Starter - Chris Chester. The Challengers: Mike McGlynn; Adam Gettis; Spencer Long
Chester is coming off a year in which he struggled, but clearly the Redskins staff identified Will Montgomery as more of the problem than Chester. I understand that, and I agree with that.
Chester had a terrific 2012, and while he counts for a somewhat hefty 4.3 million under the salary cap - he would cost the Redskins 1.6 million to release him. In other words, they would save 2.7 million. It's not a huge savings to justify letting Chester go, but it is a possibility if McGlynn, Gettis or even Long play better in camp and preseason games.
Chester is 31, and the coaches that I've spoken with feel last year was an aberration. Still, this is a battle that bears watching. Long is making the roster, barring an injury. You would have to think that McGlynn, Gettis and Josh LeRibeus are battling for one roster spot. McGlynn can play center, and the others are pretty much guards.
My guess would be Chester holds off the challengers, wins the spot to start the year and Long and McGlynn make the roster to back up the interior three positions. Long has played all three interior positions. McGlynn played left guard early in his career, but is mostly a C/RG type.
If McGlynn and Long make the team, it would most likely spell the end for Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis. The Redskins coaches and players like Gettis, but he has no game experience. LeRibeus has been inconsistent in practices, preseason games and was badly out of shape last year. He did report to off-season conditioning at about 317 pounds, he told ESPN 980.
My early predicition would be a starting five of Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus. Reserves would be Spencer Long, Mike McGlynn, Morgan Moses and Maurice Hurt over Tom Compton for the ninth spot.
I don't see the Redskins carrying ten offensive lineman but anything is possible.
WIDE RECEIVER : Projected Starters - DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon Roster Lock: Andre Roberts The Challengers: Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson, Ryan Grant, Leonard Hankerson, Nick Williams, Cody Hoffman
The top three positions are set and essentially Roberts will play in the rough neighborhood of starter snaps because I fully expect the Redskins to be in their three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back look or "11" personnel a whole bunch.
Hankerson is coming off of ACL surgery, so I would put a healthy bet that he won't be ready to go at the start of training camp and likely will open on the preseason PUP list.
The Redskins will likely carry five receivers, but of course, the possibility exists that they could take six. Any other scenario is far-fetched, even though the 2011 season opened with eight receivers. Remember, that team was largely void of talent and Mike Shanahan did makes some very curious final cutdown decisions in his tenure (Pat White).
The way I look at it is Ryan Grant is a fairly solid lock. He's a fifth round pick who plays like a "ten-year veteran" according to Jay Gruden. Essentially, the final spot as I see it would come down to Santana Moss vs. Leonard Hankerson vs. Aldrick Robinson. If they take six to Houston in September, clearly the dynamics of this battle will change.
I'm going with five as my guess, so under my scenario, I can only take one. Here's what I would do and would be my best guess. I'm opening Hankerson on the PUP list with the hope that I can give him extra time to recover and give me the flexibility that he can miss the first six weeks of the season on the regular season PUP list.
I am trying to trade Aldrick Robinson as hard as I can. I like Aldrick, but with DeSean Jackson aboard - he is an unnecessary item on a roster that will be pinched elsewhere. Cleveland would be a likely target, because of the connections with Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel. Either way, get something for somebody that you might have to release at the cutdown day for nothing. Do it now or before camp so a team has a true chance to evaluate him. Robinson just doesn't give you enough in any other area (returner) to justify a spot.
Under this forecast, Santana Moss would battle Nick Williams and Cody Hoffman for the final roster spot. Hoffman has size, but is inexperienced and unproven. He could be a potential red zone threat because of his size at just under 6'4". The Redskins really struggled in this area last season, and nobody on the current roster has the frame and contested jump ball ability that Hoffman could possibly add. Moss, the wily veteran can still contribute as a punt returner as he showed last year and has normally been a very reliable third-down option. He wasn't last year with some critical drops on the money down.
Moss struggled in 2011 and came back in terrific shape for 2012. Along with the addition of Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III, Moss had a very solid campaign.
Williams is hard to see fitting in because he doesn't have size, he's not blazing fast and he struggled in limited opportunities as a punt returner last year.
I saw Hoffman on punt return during last week's rookie mini-camp but he looked unnatural in limited opportunities.
My early prediction is that Moss wins the spot.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Projected Starters - Chris Baker, Barry Cofield and Jason Hatcher. The Challengers - Stephen Bowen, Clifton Geathers, Kedric Golston, Doug Worthington and Chris Neild.
The Redskins bolstered their front line of defense with the addition of Jason Hatcher, while also retaining Chris Baker. Washington also signed Clifton Geathers who can play in a few different spots.
Stephen Bowen is recovering from micro-fracture knee surgery and has said several times to ESPN 980 and the media that he is on schedule and will absolutely be ready to go for training camp.
In addition, Doug Worthington returns from missing all of last year and should be completely ready to go for this upcoming period. Kedric Golston and Chris Neild are a part of the veteran mix, as is Jarvis Jenkins.
The Redskins could take six or seven defensive linemen, but clearly if they take seven -- they will have to cut somewhere else.
Assuming they take six, which would be the most realistic number, a couple of bigger names are going to be left out. I would expect that like Hankerson, Bowen will open up training camp on the preseason PUP list, with maybe the longer term goal being the regular season PUP list to give him extra time and to keep his body fresher for the stretch run.
That's what I would do, even if he could possibly contribute before that. Bowen would not love that option, but it could be best for him and the Redskins short and long-term.
Because of his contract numbers - I can't rule out the possibility that Bowen is not retained, although that would be a bad decision in my eyes by the Redskins.
Bowen's cap number is 7.02 million for 2014, with a base salary of 4.4 million. They would save 1.98 million by whacking him but carry a dead charge of over five million. Keep him. The two million you save is not worth it if Bowen is right. You can negotiate a reduction in base salary with him for cap purposes, without raising future year cap numbers.
The Redskins have done this with other players like Moss, Brandon Meriweather and Adam Carriker in the past.
So assuming that Bowen is not healthy enough or stashed for preservation, I would say that Geathers stands a pretty good chance of making the roster because of his age (26) and body type (6'8", 335) combined with the money that the Redskins invested. He signed a two-year deal and counts 1.35 million this year. If he's released, the Redskins will take a 750 K hit on the 2014 cap. It seems like they are counting on Geathers to be a key contributor.
Because Baker can play nose tackle as a primary position, and proved he can play defensive end last year - that reduces the need to have a pure backup at that position. That's not good news for Chris Neild.
If the above scenarios play out, that leaves two spots for Golston, Worthington and/or Jenkins. Golston has a cap number of 1.245 million in 2014 but perhaps the more important number is his age (30). The Redskins would take a very small dead money charge of 240,000 if they went this route according to OvertheCap.com.
Jarvis Jenkins, a 2nd round pick in 2011, hasn't fulfilled the hopes the Redskins had for him but is still young enough and now several years removed from ACL surgery. He's also one-year removed from a very poor choice, leading to a four game suspension to start 2013. If the Redskins were to cut ties, he would cost a 989,000 cap hit
Jenkins greatest argument is his age and ability to help stop the run. Also, the dead money charge. I still get the feeling he is not held in very high regard overall, so a release would not be a surprise at all.
Worthington has flashed some potential with his length and strength at the five-technique spot. I like what he might be ableto provide, but he has to have a big training camp/preseason to make the team.
As it stands right now, my early prediction would be Baker, Cofield and Hatcher as the starters. Bowen on PUP. Geathers, Jenkins and Golston make the team. If Bowen is completely healthy, that would very likely bump Golston off the roster because of the reasons mentioned above.
Safety: Projected Starters - Brandon Meriweather & Ryan Clark. The Challengers - Tanard Jackson, Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, Akeem Davis, Trenton Robinson.
The Redskins are likely to only take four members of this group, but of course, could take five if they go short in another position area such as cornerback or somewhere else.
The plan for now is that Meriweather would start with Phillip Thomas backing him up, after missing his entire rookie season with a lisfranc foot injury. At the free position, Ryan Clark would start with Tanard Jackson pushing him for that spot.
Because of Meriweather & Thomas' Redskins injury history, Clark's age and Jackson's past - I would take five safeties.
Essentially, that battle comes down to Rambo vs. Davis vs. Robinson. Robinson has the edge because of special teams. I wouldn't rule out Davis though. I've heard some good things about him and if he can shine on specials, that would be huge.
As it stands right now, unless there is a major improvement, my early prediction would be that Rambo is in real trouble and that Robinson wins the spot, with Davis on the practice squad.
Kick Returner/Punt Returner : Both spots are completely wide open. Richard Crawford Jr. is the presumed punt returner because of what he did in 2012 but off of a significant knee injury, who knows what to expect. Crawford is not going to participate in team sessions over the next month, and you can tell he's still not walking in a fluid fashion.
It's another reason why you can't count out Moss.
Niles Paul (20-411, 20.6/Long 39) had some moderate success last year after finally getting his opportunity at kick returner, but he is far from a lock. Chris Thompson struggled to adjust last year, but has electrifying speed and worked at both return spots last year. He has a major injury history and clearly that is his # 1 obstacle. I did hear that Jay Gruden wanted to draft Thompson with the Bengals before the Redskins snatched him up.
I am not sure what to think about Lache Seastrunk as a possible fit in one of these roles. If he can do it, I don't know how you can have Thompson and Seastrunk on the same roster at the same time.
Chris Russell - SFTheRooster@Yahoo.com - www.twitter.com/russellmania980
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