5 Washington Redskins Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
While Robert Griffin III's play or Jay Gruden's transition to head coach are more likely to draw attention during the Washington Redskins' training camp, this is the time of year that fringe players make their mark.
The next men up in the event of injury, even the players at the tail end of the depth chart can have an effect on a team's place in the standings.
Glancing at the back end of Washington's roster, I see five such players who will surprise during training camp.
TE Niles Paul
With career totals of 14 receptions and 228 receiving yards, it's easy to forget that Niles Paul was at one point a receiver.
During his final two years at Nebraska, Paul hauled in 79 catches for 1,312 yards.
Be that as it may, the only significant time Paul has seen as a Redskin has been on special teams. With the exodus of Mike Shanahan and the arrival of Gruden, though, there may be a window for Paul to change that.
Set to be a free agent after the 2014 season, the timing couldn't be any better.
As the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, Gruden made it a point to utilize two-tight end sets, especially on first downs. According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the Bengals used this set 229 times on first down in 2013. By comparison, the second-most utilized formation, the three-receiver set, was run just 112 times.
With Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert as the headliners, Cincinnati tight ends caught 88 passes for 925 yards last season.
Looking at Washington's roster, though, there's little weaponry at the position outside of Jordan Reed to warrant using such a tight end-heavy set.
Logan Paulsen, while a sturdy blocker, is a lumbering receiver who isn't going to test the seams of a defense in the manner of an Eifert or Gresham. As for rookie Ted Bolser, the Redskins simply have a younger version of Paulsen.
In his scouting report, NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki detailed Bolser's deficiencies as a receiver: "Lumbering mover. One-speed route runner with minimal burst and acceleration to separate. Much of his production is schemed--creates little on his own."
This is where Paul comes in. While it's doubtful that a bulked up Paul still possesses the 4.51 40-yard dash speed he displayed prior to the draft, he's the most dynamic receiver Washington has to pair with Reed.
Factor in the promotion of former tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator, and the ingredients are there for Paul to stand out in camp.
S Bacarri Rambo
An All-American at Georgia, Bacarri Rambo had a tough go as a rookie transitioning to the NFL.
Missed tackles and blown assignments were hallmarks of Rambo's 2013 campaign. Prematurely ushered into the starting lineup at the outset of last season, Rambo found himself making the same mistakes at season's end.
A non-factor on special teams as well, Rambo would appear to be one-and-done in Washington after the reinstatement of Tanard Jackson. In the wake of yet another Jackson suspension, though, he's essentially been granted a second chance.
Although he'll still have to fight off Akeem Davis just to make the team, Rambo's physical tools will allow him do so if he can refine his technique.
By making more of a concerted effort to wrap up the ball-carrier (as opposed to going for the big hit), Rambo can become a better tackler. Furthermore, by soaking up all he can from veteran Ryan Clark, he can become a better communicator and make his penchant for blowing coverages a thing of the past.
While an ascension into the starting lineup isn't in the cards, making the team seems to be a viable option for Rambo if he can address such shortcomings.
CB Chase Minnifield
While Washington's investment in Tracy Porter and rookie Bashaud Breeland all but insures their place on the roster, look for Chase Minnifield to steal the show amongst the team's backup corners.
After turning in a strong performance during training camp in 2013, the rust Minnifield knocked off playing on the Redskins practice squad last season should allow him to translate his play to game action in 2014.
A more refined player who's now fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked his draft stock, Minnifield should resemble the player who was once considered a second-round talent.
Adept in press coverage, Minnifield's a good fit for the team's dime package, in which he can utilize his physical brand of coverage to frustrate opposing slot receivers.
LB Brandon Jenkins
An invisible man last season—he played in only 39 snaps—second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins is poised to earn some playing time in 2014.
In an interview with ESPN.com's John Keim, new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker dropped Jenkins' name when discussing the most improved players on the Redskins.
While noting that his young linebacker still has a ways to go in his development, Baker gave insight into the progress Jenkins has made.
Jenks is a young man that as much as I get on him, I get on him because I love him and want him to be a great player. I want him to be really good. Sometimes you have to pull it out of a guy. We're starting to get on the same page as to how that can happen so those episodes have become fewer and fewer.
Squarely on the roster bubble after the selection of Trent Murphy and the re-signing of Rob Jackson, Jenkins—who, remember, was considered a second-round talent—could elevate himself to the top backup spot if he can showcase this improvement outside of practice.
WR Cody Hoffman
Drafted or not, Cody Hoffman's size alone thrusts him into the competition to fill out the Redskins' receiving depth chart.
At 6'4", Hoffman towers over the team's current cast of receivers.
Outside of the injured Leonard Hankerson (6'2"), Washington didn't sport a receiver over 6'1" on its depth chart last season. Without a discernible size advantage to exploit, the team's red-zone offense struggled and scored on only 52 percent of its trips.
The all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns at BYU, Hoffman knows how to put his frame to use. What he lacks in creating separation, he makes up for with his ability to shield off defenders and catches the football at its highest point.
Capable of contributing on special teams as well, Hoffman could parlay a solid training camp into a roster spot on the team.