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Redskins Position Battles: Can rookie Saahdiq Charles take Trent Williams’ old spot?

Redskins Position Battles: Can rookie Saahdiq Charles take Trent Williams’ old spot?

This week, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will examine some of the more critical position battles you'll see on the Redskins over the next few months.

First up? Left tackle.

Contenders

Saahdiq Charles, Geron Christian, Cornelius Lucas

JP's outlook

The Redskins drafted Charles in the fourth round to be the left tackle of the future, but the question for the former LSU Tiger is if he’s ready for the job. Charles dealt with personal issues in college at Baton Rouge and got suspended multiple times while at LSU.

He has elite size and athleticism, though, and the Redskins did plenty of due diligence before selecting Charles.

Here's what VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith said about the 20-year-old after the draft: “He’s a high-talent player. Tremendous talent, tremendous upside. Obviously, he was there in the fourth round for a reason. We dove into this kid's character in a big way. We feel very confident in the kid, we’re comfortable with everything, the research that we’ve done. And we’re really excited for the kid, I know he is too. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, he understands why he was taken where he was.”

RELATED: CHARLES OPENS UP ABOUT PAST STRUGGLES

So it’s clear Charles is the plan for the long term, and while the Redskins feel confident in the person, the layoff from coronavirus could make a big impact. Charles could have definitely used the offseason at Redskins Park. Every rookie needs that time to acclimate to life in the NFL, but it's particularly beneficial on the offensive line. 

If Charles isn’t ready early, Lucas will be. He started eight games last year in Chicago and wasn’t great but was serviceable. He could be the placeholder until Charles is ready. 

The other name here is 2018 third-round pick Geron Christian. Put simply, he hasn’t been very good in two seasons in Washington, but he was always expected to be a developmental prospect. This is the year the development needs to be visible. Word is Christian added upper body strength, which was a big need, but he better be ready to compete right away. Usually a third-round pick gets plenty of time to figure things out, but with Ron Rivera in charge and an almost completely overhauled coaching staff and front office taking over with him, Christian’s draft status won’t save him if he struggles. 

JP’s prediction: If Charles shows up in shape, it’s his job. Rivera has said repeatedly he’s not scared to play rookies and Charles has the most talent at the position. 

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Pete's outlook

The winner of this battle is either going to be a guy with his fifth organization in the NFL, a rookie fourth-rounder, or a 2018 third-rounder who hasn't done anything meaningful yet in the league. The post-Trent Williams world is officially here, and it's cold, dark and spooky.

Taking Charles in the fourth round, just minutes after trading Williams away, was absolutely the right move by the Burgundy and Gold. Of course, there's going to be a certain amount of risk whenever you take on someone with multiple suspensions in college, but Washington was correct to accept that risk.

Now, the Redskins at least have someone they can point to and say, "That's our Plan A for the next few years." Before Charles, they couldn't do that. But will Charles also emerge as Plan A for 2020? 

While fans should definitely file away the fact that Adrian Peterson mentioned working out with Christian this spring and seeing "tremendous improvement" out of the lineman — Peterson isn't the type to hand out hollow compliments — this still feels like a two-man race between Charles and Lucas. 

If those two enter training camp and the rookie is clearly behind the vet, then Lucas should be the man to start in Week 1. This franchise needs to see what it has in Dwayne Haskins, and therefore it needs to protect him as best as possible.

However, if Charles is at least close to what Lucas is, then Rivera should go with him from the beginning. Yes, the Redskins want to win this season, but the real goal is to figure out whom they can sustainably win with for many more seasons to come.

Pete's prediction: Charles is going to beat out Lucas, who's a fine journeyman but not in the team's thoughts beyond 2020. Charles has the potential to become a formidable left tackle, and Rivera should start that process ASAP.

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Ron Rivera might not say it outright but it sounds like Washington is Dwayne Haskins' team

Ron Rivera might not say it outright but it sounds like Washington is Dwayne Haskins' team

Ron Rivera refuses to name Dwayne Haskins the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team, but listening to the coach's comments about the second-year passer, it sure sounds like it's Haskins job. 

"He’s done a great job of studying, preparing and getting himself ready for this. He’s been great," Rivera said Tuesday morning. "He’s been on the field, doing the things we’ve asked of him. He’s done the extra stuff that he and I talked about in the offseason. He’s done the things that, I think, puts him right there where he needs to be at this junction of where we are in our training, having only been able to do zoom and now only having four days of work on the field."

Much has been made about veteran QB Alex Smith's return from injury. 

Smith's story has been incredible, working his way back from a compound fracture in his leg and 17 surgeries as his body was ravaged by infection. Now Smith is able to work out with trainers at the Washington practice facilities for multiple days without setbacks. It's a remarkable story. 

But there are still major hurdles for Smith to get back on the field, not the least of which is clearing a football physical from the Washington doctors.

"For him, it’s really just a matter of, can he do the movements he needs to do?" Rivera said. "Can he protect himself when he’s on the field more so than anything else?"

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There's another important element to point out and that's the advantage - real or perceived - that Kyle Allen has over Haskins.

Allen started nine games for Rivera and new Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner last season in Carolina, and found some success. The Panthers won Allen's first four starts, and in those games, he threw no interceptions. Conversely, Carolina lost the last six games Allen started and he threw 11 picks in those contests. 

RELATED: RIVERA PLEASANTLY SURPRISED BY ALEX SMITH IN CAMP

Earlier this offseason Rivera suggested that Allen could have a "leg up" on Haskins based on knowledge of Turner's system. Asked on Tuesday if Haskins still trailed in that department, Rivera did not seem concerned. 

"I don’t think Dwayne is very far behind, I really don’t."

Rivera wants open competition across his football team. No player gets named starter, rather that player earns the job. Sure sounds like Haskins is doing just that when it comes to the starting quarterback spot. 

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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