By Jake Russell
The Redskins are set at most positions and bolstered several spots such as wide receiver, reserve inside linebacker, and special teams coverage in the offseason. But like every other team in the NFL, not every position is set, leaving battles looming as training camp arrives.
Here are my top five battles to watch during training camp and the team’s four preseason games over the next month and a half.
1. Right tackle
Tyler Polumbus/Morgan Moses/Tom Compton
The Redskins haven’t had a pair of bookend tackles since the days of Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen. The only player on the offensive line who is comparable to either of them is Trent Williams, who has manned the left tackle position since Samuels’ retirement after the 2009 season.
Polumbus has had an inconsistent tenure with the Redskins since signing with the team in 2011 but he has started 31 games the last two seasons. His level of play hasn’t been close to what Williams brings to the table, which is why the team selected Tom Compton out of South Dakota in the sixth round of the 2012 draft and Morgan Moses in the third round of this year’s draft.
Moses was a projected first round selection months before the draft but still has to polish his run blocking skills. Compton is a dark horse and would have to stand out to coaches in order to become a starter. If neither supplant Polumbus, they may have to adapt to learning interior line positions in case they’re needed in a pinch.
2. Inside linebacker
Keenan Robinson/Akeem Jordan/Darryl Sharpton/Adam Hayward
With Perry Riley set to start at one of the two inside linebacker spots, it’s up to Keenan Robinson to fill the vacant position and prove why the Redskins selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft as London Fletcher’s eventual replacement.
Robinson was set back by injuries the last two seasons with a torn right pectoral that cost him the final five games in 2012 and a torn left pectoral that cost him the whole 2013 season.
The Redskins brought in three veteran inside linebackers to compete with Robinson and improve a lackluster special teams unit. Jordan started 10 games last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, Sharpton started eight with the Houston Texans and Hayward started two for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while serving as their special teams captain. It would be a surprise to see Hayward take the starting position next to Riley and Jordan appears to be the favorite to compete with Robinson but a lot can change in a month’s time.
Kai Forbath/Zach Hocker
With a solid leg on field goals, the knock on Forbath has been his lack of distance on kickoffs. He converted all 26 extra point attempts and went 18 of 22 on field attempts in 2013. He broke an NFL record in 2012 by starting his career 17 of 17 on field goal attempts.
Determined to push him to improve his kickoff range, the Redskins drafted Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker in the seventh round of this year’s draft. He went 13 of 15 on field goal attempts and converted all 28 extra point attempts for the Razorbacks in 2013. Of his 50 kickoffs last season, 34 went for touchbacks.
Teams don’t draft a kicker unless they feel he really has a chance to compete so Hocker will receive serious consideration for the team’s kicking spot all summer. Forbath will not only have to keep his field goal percentage high, he’ll also have to kick for touchbacks on a regular basis to hold off Hocker, who could have a future in the NFL if he doesn’t make the Redskins final roster.
4. Third running back
Evan Royster/Chris Thompson/Lache Seastrunk/Silas Redd
Veteran Evan Royster’s job could be in jeopardy this summer with second-year runner Chris Thompson and rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd on his heels.
Royster finished a strong rookie season in 2011 with 100-yard performances in the final two weeks of the season. However, he has been a virtual non-factor the last two years.
Thompson’s rookie season consisted of four games, no offensive touches, eight kickoff returns, seven punt returns and a trip to injured reserve with a torn labrum. Head coach Jay Gruden was high on Thompson coming out of college last year so he should get some good looks in camp.
Seastrunk, a 2014 sixth-round selection, is an athletic back out of Baylor who showed explosiveness at times in college but needs to work on his pass-catching considering he had zero receptions in 2013.
Redd was a highly touted back at Penn State before transferring to USC. He ran for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns at Penn State in 2011 and transferred to USC following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. However, injuries slowed him down once arrived out west. He ran for 1,281 yards in 2012 and 2013 combined.
Robert Malone/Blake Clingan
The Redskins are looking to replace 40-year-old Sav Rocca, who was released in March after averaging a career-low 42 yards per punt on a career-high 84 punts in 2013.
Malone signed a reserve/future contract with the Redskins on New Year’s Eve last year following stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. His career average is 44.5 yards per punt and averaged 46.3 yards per punt in two games with the Jets in 2013. He booted the longest punt of his career (84 yards) against Tampa Bay in Week 1 last season.
Clingan was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Detroit Lions last year and punted 13 times for a 41.5 yard average in the preseason.
Malone’s familiarity with new special teams coach Ben Kotwica could give him the edge over Clingan. Gruden has said that the team’s new punter is already on this roster and no one else will be signed to compete so it’s up to Malone to hold off Clingan for the lone spot.