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Redskins training camp preview: Offense

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Redskins training camp preview: Offense

At long last, training camp is finally here. Redskins’ players and coaches will report to Richmond on Wednesday and then hit the fields at the Bon Secours training facility on Thursday morning. 

Yesterday we gave you your guide to the top storylines on defense. Up today, the offense:

The big story: There is no question that the focus in training camp will be on quarterback Robert Griffin III. He will be under the microscope every time he steps on the field for practice or for a preseason game. Going into his fourth NFL season, his pro resume includes a spectacular season (2012), a bad season (2014), and a season when he was just about an average NFL quarterback (2013). If he can be great again, that would be an unexpected surprise. The Redskins are hoping he can be at least average in 2015 and praying that he’s not awful.

They are giving Griffin some help to get the job done. While it might take their top draft pick, tackle Brandon Scherff, some time to get acclimated to playing at the next level, he still should be an upgrade in pass protection at right tackle. Jay Gruden has also pledged to put more of an emphasis on the running game and he brought in noted offensive line coach Bill Callahan to help him do so. And they kept receivers Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson on the roster at a combined cap cost of nearly $19 million, giving Griffin two high-quality targets.

Getting help will be great but Griffin’s success or failure ultimately comes down to Griffin.  He needs to clean up his fundamentals, improve his footwork, recognize what is going on in front of him, and learn how to stay on the field. That is a tall order and he may not get all of it done in training camp. But the bar is improvement, not perfection, and that is what camp observers will be looking for as Griffin spends August with a white-hot spotlight following his every move.

The position battle(s) to watch: The starters seem to be set, assuming that Griffin does not fall flat on his face in training camp or during preseason games and can hold on to the starting job. Scherff will be unchallenged at right tackle. Spencer Long appears set replacing Chris Chester at right guard. The other nine starters should be the same from 2014.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some competitions to watch. Both rookie Jamison Crowder and second-year receiver Ryan Grant are going to push slot receiver Andre Roberts for playing time.

The key role of third-down back also needs to be sorted out. The coaches like Chris Thompson’s speed but they are wary of his inability to stay on the field. Rookie Matt Jones has surprising pass catching ability for a player his size but he has yet to show what he can do in pass protection.

The players on the bubble: Thompson will also have to fend off Silas Redd, who will not give up the roster spot he had last year easily. Despite not seriously challenging for a starting job in his three seasons, 2012 third-round pick Josh LeRibeus is still around. He took some reps at center during the offseason program in an effort to show the versatility needed to be a reserve. LeRibeus likely will be sweating it out right up until final cuts are announced at 4 p.m. on September 5.

The injury concerns: The fact that an ankle injury that Trent Williams sustained in November but didn’t sideline him for even a snap was lingering to the point where he missed most of the offseason work is a concern. He likely will be ready to go for the start of camp on Thursday but he bears watching.

Tight end Jordan Reed also missed most of the offseason program after having a knee procedure. He is a constant injury concern, although he also should be on the field on Thursday. Second-year tackle Morgan Moses suffered a Lisfranc injury late last season; we will see if he is 100 percent for camp but his status is less critical since he is expected to be a reserve.

The bottom line: The Redskins offense was highly inefficient last year. They were 13th in the NFL in yards gained but 26th in points scored. They just ended up spinning their wheels too often due to horrible third down efficiency, too many sacks due to both poor protection and bad execution by the quarterbacks, too many turnovers, and other factors that led to an inability to make a play with they need to. Fixing those issues will go a long way towards curing what ails the Washington offense. 

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

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USA Today Sports Images

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson

How the outside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL. 

To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s. 

2018 outside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.

Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap. 

Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster. 

Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018. 

2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series

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10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

10 Questions in 10 days: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

The Redskins had to improve the defensive line this offseason. The defense ranked dead last against the run in 2017, and without improvement up front defensively, the playoffs would again be out of reach in 2018. 

And for the second straight season, Washington tried. 

The team selected Daron Payne out of Alabama with their first-round pick and Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round. The front office also waived under-performing Terrell McClain in the offseason and moved on from veteran A.J. Francis.

Perhaps most important, the team should have 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen completely healthy this fall. He and Matt Ioannidis looked like a strong front in 2017 before a foot injury shut down Allen for the year in Week 5. Add in Anthony Lanier, who flashed big-time sack potential, and the Redskins have a strong, young nucleus.  

But how does it all work?

In the base 3-4 scheme, Payne might have the strength to play nose tackle. Settle definitely has the size for the nose. Both are rookies, however, and will need to learn a lot, and fast, to start Week 1. Veteran Stacy McGee, coming off groin surgery, might be able to hold off the rookies if he is fully healthy. When a nose is on the field, expect Allen and Ioannidis to line up at the defensive tackle spots. If he's not playing nose, Payne will rotate in at tackle as well. Another veteran, Ziggy Hood, will provide depth at tackle, if he makes the team. 

In the nickel package, which the team deploys more than half of their snaps, expect to see a healthy rotation of Allen, Payne, Ioannidis and Lanier. Keeping those players fresh should allow interior pocket pressure, and that could be great news for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith

With Payne and Allen the headliners, and Ioannidis and Lanier valuable, and Settle capable at the nose, the Redskins have five D-line roster spots about locked down. 

Last year, the team kept six defensive linemen coming out of camp. If McGee is healthy, that spot will be his. If he's not, Hood likely hangs on. It's also possible the team keeps seven D-linemen, particularly as they monitor McGee's groin injury. 

The good news is last year, due to injuries and the talent on the roster, a number of players were forced into spots they didn't truly belong. Hood doesn't have the true size to play nose, but he was forced into the position. Lanier is best served as an interior pass rusher, but was forced to be a run stuffer. 

With more investments on the line, and better luck in the training room, the 2018 Redskins D-line should have more people playing where they belong. And that could go a long way. 

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