Almost every summer, an unheralded player—whether he’s an undrafted rookie or an underestimated journeyman labeled as a ‘camp body’—rises up in the sweltering heat and, somewhat unexpectedly, snags a roster spot. Last year, Ty Nsekhe was that guy. The versatile backup offensive tackle ended up appearing in 13 games, including two starts. As the Redskins prepare to head to Richmond, there are a handful of players who hope to follow in Nsekhe’s footsteps this year. Below, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler give you their surprise picks to lock down a job.
El-Bashir: RB Robert Kelly
I’m going to go with Kelley, an undrafted rookie running back out of Tulane, for a couple of reasons.
No. 1, the Redskins have need at the position. Consider the current depth chart: Matt Jones is the starter; backup Chris Thompson missed OTAs and minicamp while recovering from shoulder surgery; and then…well, what? Keith Marshall, a seventh round pick out of Georgia, needs to prove he can stay healthy after missing a portion of the offseason program with a hamstring injury. After Marshall you’ve got Mack Brown, Kelley and Kelsey Young battling for one, maybe two, jobs.
No. 2, Kelley (6-foot, 228-pounds) flashed in the practices that were open to the media and, on more than one occasion, wowed the head coach thanks to his speed and versatility.
“He’s one of those guys that you really don’t know a lot about, but [you say], ‘Who’s number 22? Who is that? That’s Kelley making another big play,’” Jay Gruden said a few weeks ago. “He has got great, low center of gravity when he runs the ball. I think he is going to be a tough guy to tackle when it’s all said and done. We will see what happens when we get the pads on.”
Indeed, Kelley has put himself in good position with a strong spring. The question now is whether he’ll wilt or blossom in the summer sun? I’m betting on the latter.
Tandler: TE Marcel Jensen
That’s quite a bold prediction out of Tarik. That means I have to stay away from the weak sauce here. I’m going to go with Jensen, the second-year tight end the Redskins signed away from the Bills’ practice squad late last season.
The 6-6, 270-lb. Fresno State product was quietly effective during offseason practices. Yes, he dropped a few passes but he also showed off an impressive catch radius. He looked like he knew what he was doing when he blocked but that will be hard to gauge until we see him in pads in Richmond.
His competition for the fourth tight end spot is likely to be Logan Paulsen, who has been with the team since 2010. Paulsen missed all of last season with a toe injury. He was re-signed in March, a move that surprised some as there was talk that he may not have made the team in 2015 if he had stayed healthy. The team is open to an upgrade at tight end and Jensen appears to be capable of coming in and stealing that spot.
It won’t be easy. Paulsen hasn’t made it this long as an undrafted free agent without some serious survival skills. Money will not be a huge factor since Paulsen’s cap hit is reduced via the veteran minimum salary benefit. And even if he gets past Paulsen on the depth chart he will have to show that he is one of the best 53 players in training camp. A tight end spot could easily be sacrificed to take care of pressing needs elsewhere.
But the coaches did not keep Jensen on the 53-man roster for the last three games of the season for no reason. They saw something and that gives him a chance. I believe he will take advantage of it.