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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 23, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Training camp preview—defense 

Here are some of the big topics surrounding the defense at Redskins training camp along with some of the things I’ll be observing closely when training camp gets underway on Thursday. I looked at the topics on offense yesterday

Lining up the line

Will Phil Taylor, who seems to be a long shot to make the team after they drafted two nose tackles, get some run with the first and second teams? Also, this is a young group and Jim Tomsula will have a lot of opportunities to teach. Watching him interacting with his line and going over the details of line play is fun to watch.

Spaight vs. Vigil

The two starting inside linebacker starters are safe and the team is intrigued enough by the potential of both Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton to make them likely bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight competing for the last ILB roster spot. 

Spaight is a known quantity who has been a mainstay on special teams since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. They kept him over Vigil in the cut to 53 a year ago. But last year when injuries hit, Vigil started over Spaight. In a way, this is Round 3 between the two. 

Ryan Anderson

We know what outside linebacker starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can do. Pernell McPhee will be good for four or five sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two. Anderson, who was the team’s second-round pick last year, is a big question mark. He played 193 snaps in 14 games, but he barely dented the stat sheet with no sacks and just 11 tackles. Anderson is a hard worker and they need him to produce.

The pieces of the cornerback puzzle

This is discussed in some detail here by JP Finlay and I’ll look at it later this week. To pick out one detail, I want to see what the rotation in the slot is. Right now the guess is that Orlando Scandrick is the starter but who will be behind him? That’s important because Scandrick has missed 25 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. 

Apke’s progress

Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL. If Apke is going to be an alternative if injury problems strike Montae Nicholson again, he needs to start making some progress while he is in Richmond. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 3
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 17
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 40

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 48 days. 

In case you missed it

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Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

When the weather outside becomes cold and the calendar turns to November or December, there's probably no team NFL opponents would rather avoid than the New England Patriots. The dominant franchise and defending champions always seem to get stronger as the season goes on. However, in the opening weeks, they sometimes show a vulnerability we're not used to seeing.

In recent years, New England has been prone to dropping an early-season contest that makes you go "Really? They lost to that team?" or "You just don't usually seem the Patriots play like that." In 2018 it was a Sunday night loss to the Lions that dropped them to 1-2. They followed that up with six consecutive wins. The year prior, a surprise last-second loss to the Panthers in Week 4 put the Patriots at 2-2. The team then won 11 of 12 games to close out the regular season.

Keep going back, the trend remains the same. In the end, New England always figures it out and rights the ship, but it shows that the formula to taking down the power of the NFL could just be getting a lucky draw on the schedule.

That's where the Redskins come into play. Slated to face the Patriots at home in Week 5 following four tough games to open up the season, Washington could most definitely use an upset no matter their record. 

Being that it is a relatively early-season game, and adding in the fact that New England does have a lot of questions to answer despite coming off yet another Super Bowl, there is reason to think the Redskins could be this year's "slip-up" game for the Patriots. Yet according to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, they may be one week too late.

"Unfortunately for Redskins fans I would say almost 100 percent of the time by Week 5 they have it figured out," Perry said on the Redskins Talk Podcast. "It's the first four weeks that have at times been a disaster."

Based on past showings, that does seem to be the case for the Patriots. New England hasn't lost a Week 5 matchup since 2013, and they entered that contest already sitting at 4-0. Perry also used the "We're on to Cincinnati" moment in 2014 to show how much of a swing their season takes once they hit Week 5. In that season, the Patriots rebounded from a rough showing against the Chiefs on Monday night to beatdown the Bengals and then rattle off six more wins. 

So, as much as Redskins fans want to believe that their team is in prime position to pull off the shocking win against the Patriots, the timing doesn't seem to be quite right. As Perry put it, there's always a point in the season where the switch is flipped. More often than not, "it's usually by Week 5."

While the Redskins may not catch the Patriots on their worst day in 2019, that isn't to say there is no chance Washington can come out on top. New England is entering the season with some things that still need to be ironed out, especially on the offensive side. Even if it is the daunted Week 5, Perry thinks that some of these problems may still be around.

"I think there are legitimate issues offensively for the Patriots this year both at receiver and tight end," Perry said. "I don't know if they're necessarily past those questions being answered by the time that Redskins game rolls around."

With Rob Gronkowski in retirement and Josh Gordon indefinitely suspended, some big weapons will be missing. That hasn't stopped the Patriots from getting production before, but Brady may not have as much to work with as he had in year's past. N'Keal Harry could emerge at the position, but he'll only have four games with Brady under his belt at that point.

When the teams meet in Week 5, Brady may just be working with one reliable target, and Perry believes that is an advantage for Washington.

"Outside of Julian Edleman, that receiver group is pretty weak," Perry said. "That would be the path to success for the Redskins I would say would be to really limit the passing game and keep it close that way."

Part of shutting down the passing game relies on getting pressure on Brady and giving him less time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the defense. With a strong front unit on their defense, the Redskins have a chance to do just that. But, it won't come easy against New England's offensive line.

"The offensive line up the middle is really good. It's been about as strong as it's been," Perry said. "That's one of the strongest parts of their team in all honesty."

Perry feels that if the Redskins are going to get to Brady, their best bet is to put a powerful and athletic body across from the smaller-sized center David Andrews and win that matchup.

If Washington can do that, there's a chance the passing game takes a hit, as Brady had some struggles last season when being pressured.

"He was bailing out of throws on pressure up the middle and that was forcing him into a lot of mistakes," Perry said of Brady during stretches of last season. "A lot of throwaways, some interception-worthy types of throws. So that's the kind of thing that the Redskins should be trying to do to make life difficult for them."

Week 5 promises to be an important one for Washington, and an upset win over New England could change the direction of the season. But, they can't bank on getting the Patriots off-game. Like always, a win against New England will be tough.

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10 Training Camp questions: Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

10 Training Camp questions: Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

Josh Norman will lock up one of the Redskins starting cornerback positions. Quinton Dunbar will hold the other. Landon Collins will run the secondary from one of the safety spots, and the Redskins better hope Montae Nicholson can command the other side of the deep field. 

In the base 3-4 defense, those four guys will make up the Redskins secondary. But Greg Manusky deploys Washington defense in their 3-4 base less than 40 percent of the time, and that usually means there is a fifth secondary man on the field, usually another cornerback in the nickle package. 

Last year, that was Fabian Moreau. In 2018, he played all 16 games, made 58 tackles and grabbed one interception. He wasn't great, but he was good, and the league noticed. 

For Moreau though, a rangy corner taken in the 3rd round in 2017, he might be best suited to play on the outside. Unfortunately for him, Norman and Dunbar have those roles locked up, and that means Moreau has to keep battling smaller, quicker receivers on the inside rather than using his length and speed on the outside. 

Outside of a devastating, and incorrect, pass interference call against Moreau late in a Week 16 loss against the Titans, the corner played well in his first significant NFL action. But what happens if another player is better suited for the slot corner role?

That player could be seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland.

The Redskins drafted two players in the first round this year, and somehow, Moreland might have gotten more attention than both during minicamp. He's undersized at 5-foot-11 and 180 lbs, and he played locally at FCS James Madison in college, but none of that has mattered so far.

He grabbed five interceptions during minicamp and was talked about by coaches and players every day. 

"He’s always around the ball, excellent ball skills, that’s what drew us to him and he’s proven to be quite the athlete," Washington coach Jay Gruden said during the offseason practice sessions. "He’s picked up the system very well. He's playing inside and outside. I’ve been very impressed with him."

Could Moreland really push Moreau for his job? Richmond will be the scene for one of the more interesting position battles in a while. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Moreland's highlights came before players had pads on. He's undersized, and the physicality of the NFL could be a major surprise, especially against the run. Moreau proved he would do his part against the run, which isn't always about making a tackle, but occupying space on the second level. 

Moreland was a great story in OTAs, but training camp is a different beast. It will be fun to see is he's ready for the next level, or if Moreau maintains his spot. 

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