Akh’s Thoughts: Training Camp Preview
With just 8 days until camp opens, there’s enough time to argue over what this season will bring. Just an administrative note, I won’t be able to do my column weekly this season. I’ll be doing it quarterly(every 4 games) to stick with larger themes going on with the skins.
Preliminary position grades:
QB: Very hard to grade this currently, Griffin is all potential at this point and his backups are severely lacking across the board. Grossman is still the same clusterf*ck of a player/leader as he always has been. Griffin has the tools to be a superstar. Cousins has some potential, but why was he the 8th QB taken(and taken after some major long term projects like Foles, Wilson and Osweiler).
Grade: On play: I’d say C+/B-. On potential: A.
RBs: Shanny cycled in another class of Rbs to pick through. Helu, Hightower and Royster stay, and a number of young kids brought in to see if they can be the new Helu and Royster. On talent, Helu is probably the best of the bunch, but his health issues might cost him his job. Alfred Morris would have to be extremely bad to not make the team or contribute, so he’s probably going to take a spot from the 3 holdovers.
TE: Fred Davis the Barrister signed his tender and Cooley appears healthy. Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Richard Quinn will battle it out for the 3rd TE spot. If healthy, sober and not in court, this is an area of strength for the team but the Skins’ refusal to give Davis an extension along with keeping Cooley(and his big salary) around tells me to bet on Cooley as the full time starter.
WRs: This is where the Training Camp action will be. 13 players at this position are in the roster and there’s realistically 3 spots+Garcon+Hankerson on the team with a couple developmental spots. Moss would seem to have the leg up on the rest, but his salary could make him a cut if he struggles in camp. Banks and Armstrong appear to be on strike 2 with Shanny and Josh Morgan will have be healthy(and stay that way) if he’s going to beat out a large number of young prospects of varying degrees. I would bet on Moss, Hankerson, Garcon, Morgan and Darius Hanks(as a returner) as the final 5 with Lance Lewis as the practice squad developee. The biggest problem is that Shanny doesn’t have a single guy, so far, that would scare any defense.
OL: Let me split this up…
OT: Trent Williams is back from his tour of Cyprus Hill monuments, Jammal Brown is a yoga master. Why am I still concerned about the starting tackles? Willie Smith looks like a solid player in making, Tyler Polumbus-who showed some good stretches at RT-is back and they picked up an interesting developmental prospect in Tom Compton late in the draft. If Williams has another hiccup, on or off the field, I don’t put it past Shanny to make dramatic changes on the fly.
Interior line: The current starters are Lichtensteiger-Montgomery-Chester, assuming that Licht is healthy. Shanny actually focused some draft picks on this spot and picked up Adam Gettis(fan of) and Leribeus(not a fan of) to compete for all 3 interior spots. Maurice Hurt is(or rather should be) hanging on to his roster spot by his finger nails. I’m no fan of Chester, but the sooner they get Gettis on the field(even if it means that Monty moves over to RG) the better. Monty is the best of the bunch but he’s a B- level guy at best.
Grade: C/C-. If Chester makes 16 starts, D+.
Passing offense: Hard to judge because of the Qb situation, but Griffin would have to truly great immediately to overcome the WR dislocation on the team. Hankerson, Moss and Garcon aren’t true burners at the X(Garcon being the closest), they don’t have anyone who can stretch the field with consistency. Moss’ decline has been with his speed first and he’s more of a mid level slasher. Garcon can do well on the outside but he won’t scare any fast Dbs anymore. If someone emerges for this role or Garcon reverts back to his 2009 form with the deep ball, I’ll reassess, right now they aren’t much different then they were last year. If Hankerson can’t contribute much, then we’ll be talking about which FA WRs Shanny(or whomever is coach/GM) will be after next March.
Rushing offense: One of the strengths of the team, they have young talent to spare. Helu, when healthy, can be a quietly good RB starter. Royster and hightower can bring different things to the offense also. If the team is going to succeed this year, it’ll be because they’ve turned back the NFL clock and used the rushing attack to win in what is now a passing league.
Red Zone offense: The skins still haven’t addressed the need for a real Flanker or large TE to use inside of the 20. The skins were 29th in the NFL in 2011 for scoring red zone TDs(41.2% of the time) and unless Rg3’s rushing ability nets him a passel of short rushing TDs(which is possible early on until teams adjust for it), its going to be more of the same.
Special teams: Rackers is probably a more reliable kicker then Double G is(who knows if he still can do it to earn the job though), and Rocca stays on as punter. Banks appears to be in Shanny’s doghouse and if anyone else can emerge as a returner(Hanks, Crawford, Bernstine or Kirkland) I’m guessing Banks will be an early cut.
DL: Mostly status quo for the DLine, the only addition was the return of Jarvis Jenkins from injury. With a lot of money committed to Bowen, Carriker and Cofield, its going to be interesting to see how they use the 4 of them enough to justify the resources expended on all 4. Hopefully Jenkins provides what Cofield can’t, namely a run stopping NT who can clog up enough blockers to allow the ILBs to attack. Brass tax: not much depth behind so-so starters.
Grade: C. B- if Jenkins lives up to his pick.
LBs: London Fletcher reupped for what will be his final few years in the league, Riley has finally separated the skins from their Rocky McIntosh fetish while Orakpo/Kerrigan will return at the OLB spots. There’s also some good depth in the corps with Keenan Robinson, Jon Goff and LoAlex+some youngsters. The more Orakpo and Kerrigan attack, the more effective they can be but this part of the team rises and falls on Perry Riley. If he can build on his fantastic sophomore campaign, then the LB corps can be a strength of the team. If his 2011 turns out to be a mirage, then they will struggle. On the outside, a 3rd dedicated rusher needs to be found to keep Kerrigan/Orakpo fresh(er).
Front 7: Like last year, it rises and falls on the Dline. If they’re a sieve against the rush like they were last year, any improvement in the LB corps will be for naught.
CBs: More additions then subtractions, Cedric Griffin and Morgan Trent were brought in to reinforce Hall, Barnes and Wilson but that was about it and if Griffin can’t stay healthy, this is the same meh unit that struggled especially in big situations. This unit screams out for a vet cut who can reliably hold down the nickel spot at the very least.
Safety: Out from 2011 are everyone but The Witness and Gomes, in was a bunch of guys down to what appears to be their last chance. They appear to only have 1 real free safety on the roster(Williams) and a bunch of slower strong safeties that don’t play well up in the box. They don’t have a coverage safety and you’re kidding yourself if you think that teams aren’t going to thrown speed against whomever is at safety until they show that they can stop it.
DBs: This is going to be a big problem all year long. Too many question marks up and down the 4 starting spots and there doesn’t seem to be much depth. They need someone(maybe more then one) to step up, especially a coverage guy..somewhere..who can deal with a fast burner deep.
Pass rush: The skins were better rushing the passer last year, but they need much more then the 16.5 sacks that they got from Orakpo/Kerrigan last year. And they can’t disappear for long stretches that both of them did last season. Especially with the problems in the defensive backfield, anything less then 20 sacks combined from them will be unacceptable.
Pass defense: If they aren’t getting to the opposing QB, the DBs aren’t good enough to shut down(or slow down) a good WR corps/QB combo. This is going to be a problem all season long unless some players emerge in the defensive backfield.
Rush Defense: Hopefully a full season of Jenkins and Riley in the mix with a stouter Cofield at the 0 will get the oypc under 4.2. If Jenkins can’t help in this department, I expect a lot of teams to run right at Bowen/Cofield all season long.
Depth: As what should be recognizable as standard during the Snyder years, the Skins have a plethora of depth in a few areas, but barely have functional starters in most of the rest. This is a team that could survive losing a couple WRs in camp, but lose a couple LBs or OLmen in camp, and it could be fatal to any hopes for the season.
Coaching: I’m not going to rehash all my thoughts about the Shanaclan and Haslett. I’ll just say that the ice is rightfully getting thinner.
Camp Battles to Watch:
1. Fred Davis versus Chris Cooley. At least Davis’ll have time to focus on his future career arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court if he loses his gig.
2. Trent Williams and Fred Davis versus Themselves(and the munchies). Both of them have a huge amount of talent, but they’re their own worst enemy.
3. Roy Helu versus Evan Royster versus Tim Hightower versus Alfred Morris. Shanny doesn’t mind flushing RBs no matter their production if he falls in love with someone else.
4. Willie Smith versus Tom Compton. The skins probably can’t carry 5 OTs. James Lee will have to smoke TC to even get a chance on the PS, Polumbus looked competent enough at RT to hold down the 3rd spot. Smith and Compton are probably fighting for 1 spot unless Brown gets hurt or Trent gets the munchies.
5. Tanard Jackson versus Brandon Meriweather versus DeJon Gomes versus Reed Dou…wait..they didn’t cut Doughty? Really? 4 has-beens/never-wases will be fighting it out probably for 2 spots unless some youngster emerges in camp.
6. Maurice Hurt versus Adam Gettis versus James Lee versus Josh LeRibeus: There’s probably 2 spots, 3 if Licht is still hurt to start the season available for interior line depth. Gettis’ flexibility to play both guard and center probably gives him the leg up on the rest, LeRibeus being a 3rd round pick probably means that he’s got the inside track on the other spot.
7. Santana Moss versus Josh Morgan versus Leonard Hankerson for a starting WR spot. Garcon is probably locked into a starting spot with his salary, Moss-Morgan-Hankerson are going to fight it out for the other spot. Hankerson has the inside track, Moss is on the outside track with his salary. Morgan, if healthy could leapfrog them both. I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that a kid from out of nowhere, like Hanks or Lewis could earn a starting spot with an amazing camp.
8. Whomever doesn’t win the starting job in #7 versus Lance Lewis versus Anthony Armstrong versus Terrance Austin versus Darius Hanks versus Aldrick Robinson. Armstrong, Austin and whomever doesn’t win #7 seem to have the upper leg, so anyone new will have to show special teams ability to stick but my sense is that Shanny isn’t married to any backup WRs that are holdovers. Austin and Robinson might have to have a good camp/preseason to stay around, they’re quickly moving from “flyer projects” to “taking up space.” Niles Paul appears to have seen the writing in the wall and has switched positions(for now).
9. Kevin Barnes versus Chase Minnifield versus Cedric Griffin versus Morgan Trent. It’s possible that this could end up being a competition for the starting gig if Hall/Wilson struggle while 1-2 of these guys outplay them. For now, lets just focus on the nickel/dime spots. Barnes is the most experienced of this group, Griffin the most talented. However, Barnes is in his walk year and Griffin hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Minnifield wowed the coaches in mini-camps and might have the inside track on the Nickel spot, which would allow the team to move Griffin to FS or a FS/CB swing spot.
10. Jordan Bernstein versus Richard Crawford versus Darius Hanks versus Brandon Banks for the returner spots. Shanny clearly wants Banks to lose his roster spot. He went out and expended two late picks on guys who have a college track record of returns(Crawford as a punt returner and Bernstein as a kick returner) and signed a UDFA with the skill set to contribute at both. Also, Crawford/Bernstein can both theoretically contribute on defense(Bernstein could shoot up the strong safety depth chart since there’s so much crap in front of him) while Banks hasn’t shown he’s anything more then a gadget player on offense.
5 bold predictions(non-recordwise):
1. Mike Shanahan, at the end of the season, will be put on public(or leaked to ESPN) notice that 2013 will be his last season in DC if major progress isn’t seen. Drafting for Rg3 probably gives Shanny 2013, but the price for RG3(and if they’re handing the rams a top 6 pick in 2013) means that progress needs to be seen quickly.
2. Jammal Brown and Trent Williams will make 17 starts between them and neither will return in 2013.
3. Chase Minnefield will at least replace Kevin Barnes as the nickel back in 2012, and will replace Hall by 2013.
4. By the end of the season, Fred Davis will be the De Facto 3rd string TE and it will be clear that he’s gone from DC after the season.
5. Roy Helu will lose his carries/playing time all together and will gone from DC by April.
My starting 22(my best guess at Shanny’s starter in ()):
X: Pierre Garcon(same).
Z: Leonard Hankerson(same).
LT: Trent Williams(same)
LG: Adam Gettis(Lichtensteiger)
OC: Will Montgomery(same)
RG: Jammal Brown(his stiffness becomes less of an issue inside)(Chester)
RT: Willie Smith(Jammal Brown)
TE: Chris Cooley(same)
FB/Hback: Alfred Morris(Darrell Young)
RB: Roy Helu(Hightower)
DE: Jarvis Jenkins(Bowen)
NT: Chris Neild(Cofield)
DE: Adam Carriker(same)
SS: Madieu Williams(Meriweather)
FS: Cedric Griffin(Williams)
I’ve roasted Shanny(and his whole staff)’s tailfeathers fairly regularly for their stumbles in DC, but I have to say that I admire the gamble that Shanny took in going up for RG3 and as much as I wouldn’t like the skins to be handing the Rams a top 5 pick next year..I honestly don’t think that his win/loss record should matter nearly as much as to what level RG3 develops in his rookie year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not granting Shanny or his staff absolution for a terrible season but I think that he should be judged more on developing his investment into the franchise Qb.
And what can we expect from RG3 in his rookie season? Looking at the rookie years of many other of the top flight draft pick Qbs(especially ones Shanny was involved with and other running Qbs) in recent history, it appears that a realistic stat line of 3000ish yards 16 passing TDs(+5 rushing) and 15 Ints sounds about right with a Qb rating in the high 70s/low 80s. If the skins are padding passing stats in the 2nd halves because they’re behind a lot, I could see RG3 coming near 3500 yards, but I think that first projection sounds good. I think holding RG3 back is a pretty meh WR corps and what will be a move towards using the running attack more early in games hoping to establish that with the deficiencies with the WRs. This is not to say that that Rg3 will have a Tarvaris Jackson type season(those were basically his stats with Seattle last year), I think that he’ll show far more then that. The question will be avoiding injury and allowing him to catch up with the speed of NFL defenses. Specifically, Im looking for 4 things:
1-How he handles a full on rush from a great pass rushing team. Can he deal with it without panicking like Grossman does?
2-How many bad picks does he throw in 2012? Tipped balls don’t count, great plays by a defender neither. How many throws does Rg3 make that appear to be Grossman-esque.
3-How does he play in the 4th Quarter behind less then a touchdown? This is something that there will be metrics on, but its something to watch.
4-How many hits can he avoid by throwing the ball away legally, jumping out of bounds, hook sliding, etc. Lets face it people: RG3 doesn’t have the ideal build for an NFL Qb. He’s got the arm, brain and appears to have the work ethic—but until he puts on about 15-20 lbs of muscle, teams are going to try and batter him around to see how durable he is.
Something that will undermine any jump in production moving from RG3andout to RG3 will be a subpar supporting cast for him on offense. Don’t get me wrong, Williams, Davis, Cooley and Brown have talent and Montgomery is one of the best Centers they’ve had in years but none of those WRs scare me. Hankerson could, but he looks like a multi-year project with his injury issues and I think that his ceiling is James Jones(similar type players also). I like Helu, but he’s another guy who doesn’t seem durable enough to be an every down back. Is it possible that Rg3 at some point will be good enough to overcome an offensive supporting cast like this? Sure. I don’t think its going to happen this year though.
Another issue is that the red zone offense, until they find a reliable flanker target over 6-3, is still going to struggle. Hopefully not to the red zone touchdown percent of 41%, but I doubt that they’ll break 50% this year even with Rg3 at the helm. Not having that target means that you can spy Rg3 with a safety and that should reduce the effectiveness of RG3’s best weapon inside the 10.
I understand the defense is better then they were under the Blachesanity, but this is a defense that still has structural flaws. Unless Jenkins displaces Cofield, they’re still trying to run a 3-4 without a true NT. And that increases the pressure on the ILBs and DEs to do much to cover up for this deficiency. This+the major question marks in the secondary means that the defense will be asking a lot of the LB corps to cover up for the problems. And while Orakpo-Riley-Fletcher-Kerrigan are arguably the most talented part of the entire team, that’s asking a lot. Orakpo/Kerrigan will have to put up over 22 sacks/12 turnovers in 2012 and Riley/Fletcher will be asked to cover while not letting the rushing attack get past the line. I’d feel much better about the defense if the safeties turned out to be effective players and Hall gets displaced by Minnifield or Griffin-especially on 3rd downs. Right now, I don’t think that the defense is going to be any better then they were last season, even with Jenkins in(no matter that with Carriker’s big deal, he’s really going to have to vastly outplay someone to see a significant amount of playing time).
If I’m facing the redskins, this is how I attack them:
On offense: Attack Orakpo on the running game, have a TE or RB on the strong side to watch the SS from blitzing, if he doesn’t then use that blocker on either OLB or Riley(if he blitzes). On 3rd downs, I want to identify where DeAngelo Hall is and go right at him. With the pressure on the ILBs, I want to use a lot of playaction and go deep against either safety or sit a TE in the middle of the field between them and the LBs. Running the ball, I want to go right between Bowen and Cofield. Teams had a lot of success there in 2011. As an offensive coach, I want to increase the pressure on Riley/Fletcher and force them to choose between playing the run or dropping back to help out the safeties.
On defense: If Chester is at RG, I’m blitzing him over and over again. If Brown looks slow, I send the house at the right side. If Helu is on the field, I spy him with a LB and let RG3 run all he wants to. I’d much rather have him running for 4-7 yard gains then airing it out with that arm of his. Jam Moss and Garcon at the line and let their lack of acceleration screw up the routes. I’d send a blitzer at whomever is playing TE and tell them to keep them occupied. I’d rather blitz pointlessly to keep Davis or Cooley from doing a hot read. As a defensive coach, I want to do everything I can to keep RG3 out of rhythm and especially keep him from hitting big plays, thus opening up the defense to Helu/Cooley/Davis.
My first prediction: 4-12. Wins against Cleveland, Dallas(at home), Giants(at home) and St Louis. Its an easy retort to say that “Griffin replacing Grossman means a couple more wins.” If the skins were playing the same schedule from 2011, I might agree(I think that the team isn’t moving forward talent-wise outside of the QB spot tho). There’s just too many tough games for this team with playing the Saints, Tampa, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Baltimore on the schedule and especially too many tough defenses to expect that a rookie Qb, even one as talented/hardworking as RG3, can win with consistency. If they stay healthy or young players emerge in some of the team’s sinkholes, I could bump that up to 5-6 wins, but I think that’s the ceiling for this team. Despite adding Rg3 and getting rid of the crap that Snyderatto brought in, there’s just not a lot of talent on this team and seems like a roster full of C+ players.