By Jake Russell
1. Robert Griffin III
It’s no secret that the Redskins go as Robert Griffin III goes. A season after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year during a rookie campaign that ended with a torn ACL and LCL, Griffin returned to the field in a miraculous amount of time. After his devastating injury in the 2013 Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks on January 6, he started the team’s 2013 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 9. However, hampered by a knee brace all season, Griffin struggled and was benched by head coach Mike Shanahan for the final three games of what turned out to be a 3-13 season.
It was apparent that the versatile Griffin did not feel natural running or throwing while wearing the brace last year. His mechanics worsened as did his completion percentage and rushing yards per game following his record-setting rookie year. Now with his knee free and clear, it will be interesting to see if Griffin regains the fluidity in his running and throwing that he displayed in 2012.
With new head coach Jay Gruden in charge and wideouts DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts now at his disposal, Griffin is expected to try to hone his passing skills in an effort to make him a more polished pocket passer. Griffin’s relationship with Shanahan fractured over time and came to a head in 2013 so it will be interesting to see what type of rapport he develops with Gruden. The generation gap between Shanahan and Gruden, a former quarterback, should help with the communication between Griffin and his new coach.
2. David Amerson
Selected in the second round (51st overall) of the 2013 draft, Amerson now has a chance to show why Washington was confident enough to make him the team’s first pick. He showed playmaking ability in college by picking off 13 passes as a sophomore and winning the Jack Tatum Award.
As a rookie, Amerson played all 16 games and started eight. He logged 48 tackles, 10 passes defended, two interceptions, one touchdown and one forced fumble. His performance was up and down as far as coverage goes but his interception return for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 showed promise.
With Josh Wilson out of the mix and now with the Atlanta Falcons, Amerson is slated to enter the season starting alongside DeAngelo Hall. In June, Amerson said “I found my swagger” following his inconsistent rookie year. As Hall will attest, confidence is a must for anyone hoping to last as a starting cornerback in the NFL.
How Amerson adjusts from entering the league as a reserve to entering his second season as the pegged starter is a major storyline that the 2014 season hinges on.
3. Tyler Polumbus
Other than staying healthy and starting 31 games the last two seasons with the Redskins, Polumbus has been far from consistent during his tenure in D.C.
While he improved his technique as the 2013 season went on, having him penciled in as the starting right tackle doesn’t necessarily provide comfort to those browsing the depth chart of the Redskins offensive line.
Polumbus has been on the hot seat for a while now and the selection of 2013 third-rounder Morgan Moses solidified that thinking. Polumbus also faces competition from 2012 sixth-round pick Tom Compton.
He’s not expected to be supplanted by either Moses or Compton — not immediately anyways — but it will be interesting to see how he performs with younger players looking to take his job.
4. Morgan Moses
Months before the 2014 NFL Draft, Moses was projected to be a possible first round selection. As it turned out, he fell to the third round and the Redskins selected him at 66th overall. At 6’6″, Moses is one of the four tallest players on the team and comes in at a hulking 318 pounds.
If Polumbus loses his position as the starting right tackle at some point this season, it will likely be to Moses. If that is to come to fruition, he must first improve his run blocking and work to stay low in his blocks.
5. Keenan Robinson
Since his selection in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Robinson was viewed as London Fletcher’s eventual replacement. Fletcher, now retired, was the ultimate iron man following a 16-year career that included 256 consecutive games played and ended wth 215 straight starts.
For Robinson, his two seasons with the Redskins has been marred by injuries. That was in issue he wasn’t used to dealing with in college or high school. He missed the final five games of his rookie season with a torn right pectoral muscle. In the first series of drills of the first training camp practice of 2013, Robinson tore his left pectoral muscle, forcing him to miss the whole season.
Now Robinson is in line to start alongside Perry Riley at inside linebacker and maintaining health is the ultimate key. He’ll have to fend off the likes of veteran newcomers Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton.
6. Brandon Jenkins
When the Redskins drafted Jenkins in the fifth round in 2013, he was viewed as someone who would have been taken rounds ahead had he not missed all but one game during his senior season at Florida State.
With the selection of Trent Murphy in the second round this May, Jenkins is very much on the roster bubble after only playing limited snaps in five games during his rookie season. A very athletic rusher coming out of FSU that hasn’t achieved his potential, Jenkins could turn out to be Markus White 2.0.
Currently slated behind the likes of Murphy and Rob Jackson, how Jenkins plays on special teams during training camp and the preseason is pivotal to his development and chances of making the roster.
7. Lache Seastrunk
The shifty rookie running back from ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 158 carries during his junior season in 2013. However, he did not catch a pass all year. That makes it difficult to compete with the versatile Roy Helu, Jr. as Washington’s third down back. He will, however, compete with Evan Royster and Chris Thompson to become the team’s third string running back. Undrafted rookie Silas Redd out of USC will also provide solid competition for Seastrunk.
Five of Seastrunk’s 19 career scores at Baylor went for at least 68 yards, so the playmaking ability is there. It’s just a matter of becoming a more consistent, well-rounded back and improving on his pass-catching, which he has said he is very capable of doing.
8. Phillip Thomas
Thomas’ promising rookie season ended before it began last year when he suffered a Lisfranc injury during the team’s first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.
Health has been an issue in recent years for Thomas, who led the NCAA with eight interceptions at Fresno State in 2012. He missed the 2011 season with a broken left leg and dislocated left ankle.
Redemption is imperative for him as he looks to learn from the likes of Brandon Meriweather and returning veteran Ryan Clark. The Redskins secondary, specifically the safeties, struggled mightily in 2013. Maintaining full heath and regaining his ball-hawking ability should move Thomas up to the starting ranks over time, perhaps in 2015.
For the Redskins, it’s important to see growth and solid play out of Thomas after witnessing fellow rookie safety Bacarri Rambo disappoint with tackling and pass coverage throughout the season.
9. Andre Roberts
The 26-year-old Roberts signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Redskins in March with the expectation of being the number two receiver opposite Pierre Garcon. That all changed when the Redskins signed DeSean Jackson after his surprising release from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Roberts averaged at least 11 yards per catch in each of his four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and is versatile enough to play outside and in the slot, which is now his new position.
His best season came in 2012 when he set three career highs with 64 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns.
Will moving to the slot make Roberts even more productive now that defenses have to account for both Jackson and Garcon? That’s the $16 million question.
His move to the third receiver role has given him time to work on both punt and kickoff returning duties this offseason. Expect to see him get some opportunities at both spots in the coming weeks.
10. Jason Hatcher
Hatcher’s addition to the Redskins defensive line was a bit surprising and pricey at four years and $27.5 million but it was much needed. His 11 sacks in 2013 helped earn him his first career Pro Bowl berth and were double the output from the whole Redskins defensive line.
At 32, Hatcher’s contract raised eyebrows but it can be said he’s a young 32, given that his only starts came in the last four seasons. On the other hand, the biggest question heading into camp is the health of his knee, which required arthroscopic surgery late last month. He could enter camp on the PUP list.
If he’s healthy heading into the regular season and can somewhat replicate his production from last year, the signing clearly paid off. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is expected to employ a more aggressive scheme this season, which will be aided by Hatcher’s presence.