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Redskins position preview: Right outside linebacker

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Redskins position preview: Right outside linebacker

Over the next few weeks, Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ depth chart now that the team’s offseason program has concluded.

Some battles are straightforward. Others could get complicated. This much, however, cannot be debated: A player is not on the 53-man roster until its finalized Sept. 5.

So who’s in? And who’s in jeopardy? Up today …

Position: Right outside linebacker.

On the roster: Trent Murphy, Preston Smith, Trevardo Williams and Jackson Jeffcoat.

Likely to make the 53: Murphy, Smith and Williams.

Comment: Ryan Kerrigan is entrenched as the starting left outside linebacker, but with Brian Orakpo off to Tennessee, the Redskins must settle on a right-side starter.

Based on OTAs and minicamp, that key position battle will be waged between Murphy and Smith, the Redskins’ second round draft picks in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Murphy made eight starts last season as Orakpo’s injury replacement and showed incremental improvement, racking up a modest 2.5 sacks and 15 quarterback pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com. As a result, he’s got a significant edge in experience. He’s also enjoyed a strong spring and has bulked up to 267 pounds after weighing 258 as a rookie.

Smith, meantime, began OTAs as a second stringer but progressed quickly and finished the offseason program working with the first team (as Kerrigan recovered from a knee scope). When the Redskins used the 38th overall pick to select him out of Mississippi State, the initial speculation was that he would eventually challenge Murphy for the starting spot across from Kerrigan. And nothing that's happened in recent weeks suggests anything has changed.

Battling for a job: Williams and Jeffcoat.

Comment: The battle for backup duty could also be a tight one, assuming Kerrigan, Murphy and Smith remain healthy. The Redskins kept four outside linebackers last season, and there’s no reason to believe that's going to change.

That, obviously, leaves Williams and Jeffcoat battling for a single opening. Jeffcoat had a more productive 2014 campaign, recording a sack and an interception in limited playing time. In OTAs, however, Williams worked ahead of him early on, getting some first time reps alongside Murphy while Smith got up to speed.

As far as backup battles go, this could be a good one.   

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VIDEO: Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis return to Redskins OTAs

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VIDEO: Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis return to Redskins OTAs

Montae Nicholson and Vernon Davis were among those absent at Monday's open Redskins OTAs session, and both absences were surprising considering each player's somewhat unsteady spot on the roster.

Nicholson's second year with the Redskins was a struggle both on and off the field, while Davis is often mentioned as someone who might be in line for a contract restructuring or even a release. 

However, thanks to a video that the Redskins posted on Instagram, it's now clear that the safety and the tight end have since returned to Ashburn to work with their fellow teammates:

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8️⃣5️⃣ putting in the work

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It's an especially encouraging development for Nicholson, who should be doing whatever he can to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff. Whatever the reason for his absence was on Monday, it's a good sign to see that he didn't stay away too long. 

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Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most OTAs absences don't matter, but Montae Nicholson's absence sure stands out

Most of the time, if you're getting upset about an NFL player skipping voluntary OTAs, you're doing life wrong.

But if you're a Redskins fan who's a bit puzzled by Montae Nicholson not showing up to the early sessions of Washington's offseason workouts, you have a right to be.

Nicholson wasn't in Ashburn on Monday, a practice that was open to the media. There's been no indication that he's reported to the 'Skins since, either (UPDATE: Here's a video proving he has since returned, which is an encouraging sign). 

Now, this isn't a situation worth really freaking out about. Again, OTAs are voluntary, and it's totally possible Nicholson was working out somewhere else and feels that's how he'll be best prepared for 2019. 

Still, though, assuming he had nothing else serious going on, it's a questionable choice by the defensive back. And, according to Jay Gruden, it was a questionable choice he made on his own.

"Correct," Gruden answered Monday when asked if Nicholson skipping was based on the 23-year-old's decision. Gruden said earlier in his presser that he was "not really surprised" by it.

Perhaps the coach is telling the truth and he wasn't surprised. You can bet he was definitely annoyed by it, however.

Nicholson isn't an established player like Trent Williams or Josh Norman, other guys who weren't there when the Burgundy and Gold started this phase of the NFL calendar. He's a third-year safety with 22 up-and-down games to his name.

Not only that, he's just a week or so removed from the news that December assault charges against him were dropped due to a lack of evidence. You'd think someone who just learned that would be eager to get in front of Gruden and his coaching staff and try to repair his image.

After all, much of the same coaching staff who preferred to keep Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the lineup over Nicholson, even as Clinton-Dix struggled following his arrival, remains in charge.  

The starting spot opposite of Landon Collins is wide open, and of the options on the roster, Nicholson is the most talented. He also would fit nicely next to Collins, considering he's got the speed and ability in coverage when he's healthy and mentally right.

Speaking of Collins, he attended OTAs, despite the fact that he wasn't able to participate as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury. Yet there he was, involved and roaming the sidelines, encouraging his teammates and coaching up the younger DBs on various techniques and details.

One of those DBs Collins should've been coaching up is Nicholson, yet Nicholson was nowhere to be found. Plenty more reps await Nicholson over the coming months, but the fact that he wasn't there to claim the first helping of them is not the best way to start his path back into the starting lineup.

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