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The Washington Redskins have undergone quite a few changes since the end of last season, and look to rebound in the 2018 regular season from a 7-9 campaign in 2017. I predicted a few weeks ago that the Redskins would finish 10-6 this year, and I’ll explain this reasoning throughout this article. In this piece, you will see position-by-position breakdowns of the training camp battles for the most important positions on the roster that will either make or break their 2018 campaign.
The biggest storyline surrounding the Redskins transition into this season is the addition of veteran QB Alex Smith. He is coming off of another great campaign in Kansas City, and should fit what the Skins would like to do on offense. However, with Smith’s style of play and precise decision-making, he may frustrate head coach Jay Gruden and Redskins fans alike with not taking the same 50-50 chances that former quarterback, Kirk Cousins, did.
The team also recently announced a one-year, $7 million deal with backup QB Colt McCoy. He has been with the team since the days of Robert Griffin III, so it only seemed right to invest in this “insurance policy” if Smith were to miss any significant time. This would be catastrophic to the pending season, though, as Colt McCoy has very limited starting experience and an abysmal career record of 7-18.
This is the most intriguing position to watch unfold this year. The front office invested a very wise second round draft pick in LSU’s Derrius Guice, who could be the answer to Jay Gruden’s lack of running game success. The team also still has sophomore Samaje Perine, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry, even while the offensive linemen continued to get hit by the injury bug. Both Perine and Guice should pack a potent one-two punch in this year’s offensive scheme, and both are getting rave reviews early on.
Let’s also not forget about Rob Kelley, who averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season, but found greater success in his rookie campaign, where he averaged 4.2. It would be wise for Gruden and staff to not forget about Kelley’s reps as well. Hear what Gruden had to say about them here:
The wide receiver position left a lot to be desired in 2017, with the failed experiment of Terrelle Pryor Sr. and the loss of a key cog in Ryan Grant. Alex Smith will have to gel with new additions such as Paul Richardson Jr. (their prized free agent acquisition) and rookie Trey Quinn. Both Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson find themselves in unfamiliar territory as being the “alpha males” in the WR huddle, as they are the only ones with previous Redskins offense experience.
If for some reason Doctson does not develop into the potential that led Scott McLoughan to invest a first-round pick in, this 2018 campaign could bottom out fast, as teams would learn to double-team Richardson on the outside. Instead, Crowder and Doctson need to continue to develop into worthy targets for Smith, and build a solid rapport with their quarterback.
The 2017 Redskins simply could not count on their All-Pro TE Jordan Reed to be healthy last season, as he missed seven games (including the final six) due to a lingering toe injury that left him, and his teammates, incredibly frustrated. Not to mention, Reed’s concussion history is incredibly troubling, and one (or two) more would put him on IR indefinitely. In his void, the ageless Vernon Davis filled in quite nicely, catching 43 passes and accumulating just under 650 yards from scrimmage. Around these two are other suitable targets such as rookie Matt Flanagan, and third-year pro Jeremy Sprinkle, who could help continue to move the ball downfield if Reed can’t solve his injury woes.
Another key cog that will either make or break the Redskins 2018 season is the return of injured linemen Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, who have been on-the-field participants recently in training camp. This is a great sign for an offensive unit that was decimated with continuity issues last year, and are in great need of early chemistry with so many new faces in DC. Rounding out the interior are Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff, and Chase Roullier (who is taking the starting center spot from now-Jets’ Spencer Long). If the injury bug does not bite this dynamic unit this season, look for Alex Smith and Derrius Guice to have All-Pro seasons.
The kicker, Dustin Hopkins, needs to improve his consistency this year to not worry about his job security moving forward. Hopkins stats from a year ago were 14/17 field goals made and 18/19 extra points converted. However, Hopkins struggled from long-range with his longest successful try being a 49-yarder during Week 17 against the Giants. The punter, Tress Way, averaged a distance of 45.7 yards per punt, and even led the league in this category during his 2014 campaign.
The secondary was another part of the Redskins unit that left a lot to be desired a year ago. Josh Norman was able to make some significant plays for the defense, but not enough to force the same number of turnovers from their past playoff runs. The key losses from last year were a stud in the making, Kendall Fuller, who they traded to Kansas City in exchange for Alex Smith. Whether the new names in Orlando Scandrick and Fabian Moreau can gel with veterans Norman and Quinton Dunbar remains to be seen in camp. Likely, Norman and Dunbar will be the starters going into the 2018 season, but anything can happen.
Rounding out the Redskins secondary are safeties DJ Swearinger, rookie Troy Apke, Deshazor Everett and Montae Nicholson. The true leader on this unit is six-year veteran DJ Swearinger, who is working on becoming an even more vocal presence in the 7-on-7 drills:
“We’re doing a lot more communication,” Swearinger said. “Communication is very evident this year. I feel like for a lot of people it’s their second year playing for this defense so I feel like everybody is more comfortable. Communication has been a lot better this year.”
This unit clearly needs to get better, given the number of new faces in the cornerback positions.
The outside linebacker position has long-been a great position of strength for the Redskins, and veteran All-Pro Ryan Kerrigan looks to create even more havoc on the outside for the opposing quarterbacks. Preston Smith should also complement Kerrigan’s attack with a strong physical presence.
The inside linebackers are led by Mason Foster and recently re-signed Zach Brown, who will need to continue to make plays in the middle of the field to stop the run and bat down passes. Assuming these play-making veterans can stay healthy, the loss of now-Titans’ linebacker Will Compton will be an easier pill to swallow.
Finishing up this defensive unit are the defensive linemen, who are led by first-round draft picks Daron Payne (2018) and Jonathan Allen (2017). Given the fact that the Redskins’ run-stopping ability (or lack thereof) in 2017, one can only assume this unit will be much more improved than what we saw last season. Other key cogs in the defensive wheel are Ziggy Hood, rookie Tim Settle, and third-year player Matt Ioannadis. Stopping the run should be a top priority for all of these players, otherwise, the front office will turn to other free agents who can get the job done in their absence.
Overall, I feel like the number of new faces in key positions will either be boom or bust for the 2018 Washington Redskins. If one or more of these categories turns out to be a dud, look out for coach Jay Gruden’s seat to be come incredibly uncomfortable as the season plays out.
Photo Credit: MASN Sports