Washington Redskins Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
It happens every year: Washington fans fall in love with a player lower down the depth chart. He could be an undrafted rookie, a guy coming off a bad season or even a veteran player overshadowed by young talent. Last year it was Pat White, so there's really no way of knowing who will draw a cult following.
Jay Gruden's new-look team is going to offer plenty of surprises, not least because it's Gruden's first ever season as a head coach. This means that every player at OTAs should be even more dedicated, desperate to make his mark under the new regime.
Read on for four players clawing their way up the depth chart this offseason.
Keenan Robinson, ILB
Not much was expected of Keenan Robinson, but that's not because he doesn't have talent. Every time he seemed to be on the verge of making the team, he was struck down by a pectoral injury.
This year hopes to be different.
Despite not playing a down last season, Robinson has been working hard and looks to have impressed the coaches. Gruden has been pleased with Robinson's development, per John Keim of ESPN.com:
He's a lot further ahead than we anticipated, stamina-wise, mentally. The linebacker position is hard to judge in shorts. But it is exciting to see him run around, he's a very fluid athlete. He’s active in the passing game and his run fits have been outstanding. It’s going to be a great competition come training camp. We're pleased with where all those linebackers are, especially Keenan’s progress.
Keim also reported that Robinson had been working with the starters in OTAs, occupying London Fletcher's old spot. While it helps that Jim Haslett was retained from Mike Shanahan's staff, it's still an encouraging sign that Robinson has been trusted to make the calls for the first-team defense.
Maybe this is the year when Robinson finally fulfills his potential.
Bashaud Breeland, CB
Bashaud Breeland is going to be a popular guy among the fans. That much is clear already. Physical to the point of illegality, Breeland isn't expected to compete for a starting role. However, he's making his presence known, and there's a lot to like about him.
Because he's never been the fastest of corners, Breeland has made up for it with aggression at the line of scrimmage. That's going to please a lot of people looking for more commitment from the secondary, but he needs to watch his hands at the next level.
John Keim noticed this at rookie minicamp and spoke to Breeland at OTAs, reporting the interview for ESPN:
I get caught with my hands down the field sometimes. In this league you can't do that so I have to work on that. I'll learn. The first day of one-on-ones [during rookie minicamp], I tugged a little bit and they were like, ‘You can't do that. That's pass interference in this league. You've got to get out of Clemson.' I have to work on it now.
With DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson penciled in as the starters and Tracy Porter probably ahead of him, Breeland can work on his technique and challenge for a bigger role next year.
The good news is that Breeland's aggression will serve the team well on special teams, an area where Washington was frankly awful in 2013.
Santana Moss, WR
Santana Moss' head looked to be on the chopping block after a bad year. The veteran receiver ranked 74th of 78 receivers by ProFootballFocus when it came to dropped passes. This metric was based on receivers who were thrown at least 40 catchable passes. Moss dropped eight of 50, which isn't good enough for someone of his experience.
The addition of Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant looked to spell the end for Moss, but he seems to have shaken that off with a solid offseason. Gruden has been effusive about Moss' contributions in OTAs as well as his ability to contribute in 2014. Tarik El-Bashir at CSN Washington put Gruden's enthusiasm into context:
It’s important to point out that what coach says in a press conference isn’t always what he’s actually thinking. I get that. It’s also important to note that things can change as the intensity ramps up in the coming weeks. But Gruden really went out of his way to praise the 35-year-old veteran, who is one of 12 receivers fighting for six (maybe seven) spots.
The most telling of Gruden's comments comes at the end of Bashir's article, where the coach makes it clear that there will be a place for guys like Moss on his team:
He’s the first one out there today again. I like having guys like that, veteran guys who are great examples for rookies and also can help you win in big games. You know the game’s not too big for them because they’ve been there and done that. He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.
Moss' resurgence is likely to force another receiver to the bubble, most likely Aldrick Robinson. Robinson has struggled to assert himself in OTAs, getting smothered by rookie Breeland and safety Akeem Davis. ESPN980's Chris Russell stated, "I really see no way Robinson makes this team," which doesn't bode well for the former sixth-round pick.
Darrel Young, FB
It's probably fair to say that Darrel Young can't get much higher up the depth chart. There's no one behind him, either. What he can do is make a bigger contribution, and that looks to be the case so far.
While Young's strengths—like most fullbacks—lie as a blocker and a powerful runner, he has also demonstrated the ability to catch the ball and make a play. In keeping with this, and knowing that Gruden likes to throw the ball to his backs, Young has been catching shovel passes out of the backfield in OTAs.
If Lache Seastrunk can demonstrate good hands, and if Chris Thompson can stay healthy, Young's targets will inevitably decrease. However, he's a tough, trusted member of the team who has proven himself in tough situations—most notably the Chargers game in November last year.
Young has the tools to be a punishing threat out of the backfield. With Alfred Morris often relied upon to grind out the tough yards with only smaller backs behind him, the team was crying out for more involvement from Young.
It looks like Gruden has noticed this and is attempting to maximize Young's abilities on the field.