Predicting the Winner of the Washington Redskins' Biggest Training Camp Battles
Training camp is a time for every NFL team to begin putting together the pieces they have amassed during the offseason. The Washington Redskins have a new head coach and a number of new players to work into the picture before the season begins.
With training camp comes training camp battles, and those battles will dictate who starts, who sits and, in some cases, who stays and who goes.
From replacing a Hall of Fame linebacker to upgrading the entire right side of the offensive line, the Redskins will have their work cut out for them. But all is not lost, as there are players fighting for the right to start at inside linebacker and along the offensive line who will leave the 'Skins better off than before.
Here are predictions for the winners of the most important training camp battles.
Kicker—Kai Forbath vs. Zach Hocker
Fewer things are less riveting than a kicking duel. Kai Forbath, in spite of his injury-interrupted 2013 campaign, is a reliable leg capable of hitting everything from 50 yards and in.
Where Forbath falls short is on kickoffs, where he routinely failed to register touchbacks, which may seem like a small thing, but it left the Redskins to cover more kicks than their opponents, exposing a weakness in the special teams.
Zach Hocker, the rookie seventh-round pick, on the other hand, lacks great consistency on field goals, but he routinely put the ball out of the back of the end zone for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Hocker had some struggles with accuracy when under pressure, but he rebounded for a strong senior season, which put him on the Redskins’ radar.
As good as Forbath has been for the Redskins, they wouldn’t have spent a draft pick on Hocker if they didn’t have every intention of making him their starter. That said, Forbath hasn’t had struggles with accuracy, and he has a track record of making kicks in pressure situations.
Forbath wins the kicking competition in training camp, though not without a fight from Hocker.
Backup Running Back—Roy Helu vs. Lache Seastrunk
If there is one thing that is etched in stone heading into training camp, it is that Alfred Morris is the starting running back. What is less certain is the depth chart behind him.
Roy Helu has the experience and versatility, while Lache Seastrunk has intriguing speed and playmaking ability.
Helu is capable of making plays in his own right, and he can do so running the ball, catching out of the backfield. Seastrunk is simply a home run threat whenever he touches the ball, though his success at Baylor came in a wide-open spread offense where he didn’t have to do a lot of reading of blocks.
Experience will win out in the end, though don’t expect Seastrunk to disappear after training camp. He’ll get touches on offense, just not as many as Helu or Morris ahead of him.
Right Tackle—Tyler Polumbus vs. Morgan Moses
It is a foregone conclusion that Morgan Moses will eventually be the starting right tackle over Tyler Polumbus. As disappointing as Polumbus is in pass protection, he is capable of being solid for decent stretches of time.
Moses is making the difficult transition from left tackle to right, where his responsibilities and basic mechanics are different.
Polumbus is an excellent run-blocking tackle, and even with barely passable pass-protecting ability, he’s better than throwing an unseasoned, unprepared rookie into the fray. Such a rash decision would not only jeopardize his long-term development, but it could put Robert Griffin III at risk should Moses truly fail out of the gate.
Polumbus wins the training camp battle, but Moses wins the war by season’s end.
Nickel Cornerback—Tracy Porter vs. Bashaud Breeland
How often is it that the third-cornerback position is more intriguing than either of the starting roles on defense? Tracy Porter has endured a rough patch in his career, falling from the heights of Super Bowl hero with the New Orleans Saints to struggling through a seizure suffered during preseason with the Denver Broncos.
After a quiet, but solid season with the Oakland Raiders, Porter came to Washington and immediately became the third cornerback on the depth chart.
Enter Clemson Tiger prospect Bashaud Breeland, who has the physical skills to make a smooth transition to the NFL as a nickel corner.
Breeland isn’t an explosive athlete or a great tackler, but he is fluid in coverage and is both aggressive and relentless in pursuit.
It seems like an easy choice, with Porter boasting veteran experience and Breeland being just a rookie, but training camp could reveal more and move Breeland ahead. If nothing else, the Redskins will have an excellent nickel/dime corner tandem.
Punt/Kick Returner—Andre Roberts vs. Lache Seastrunk vs. Chris Thompson
When Andre Roberts signed with the Redskins in free agency, he expected to be the second receiver opposite Pierre Garcon. After the team signed DeSean Jackson, who was unexpectedly released by the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, Roberts became the third receiver.
Roberts, relegated to slot duty after thinking he’d be the starter, had to find another way to make an impact.
During his time with the Arizona Cardinals, Roberts ran return duty to decent success, and he has already been running returns during offseason workouts.
Rookie upstart Lache Seastrunk, on the other hand, has no experience returning punts or kicks, and is battling for a roster spot at running back. However, Seastrunk has game-changing speed that could lend itself to impact performances in the return game.
And then there’s Chris Thompson, the speedy second-year running back who turned heads with a preseason return for a touchdown as a rookie, but he ultimately disappointed in regular-season reps.
Of the three candidates, Seastrunk makes the least sense based on his experience in the role. He has great vision running the ball, but it doesn’t always translate to success as a return man.
Roberts will have a bigger role on offense than maybe he expects, which means Thompson should be in line to recapture return duties in training camp.
Backup Outside Linebacker—Rob Jackson vs. Trent Murphy
The Redskins spent their top pick, a second-rounder, on Trent Murphy, who led the nation in sacks while at Stanford last season. He isn’t likely to push either Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan out of their starting roles, but it is silly to think he’ll be relegated to the bench to marinate for a year or two.
Murphy gives the Redskins some flexibility to have three pass-rushers on the field in different capacities or as part of a rotation.
Veteran Rob Jackson and second-year man Brandon Jenkins should also be considered factors on defense.
Jackson has the luxury of starting experience in place of the injured Orakpo in 2012, where he tallied 4.5 sacks, two interceptions and a touchdown.
Though the situation can be seen as Jackson being Orakpo’s backup and Murphy being Kerrigan’s, but it isn’t that simply.
Murphy may be a rookie, but like Kerrigan, he has a relentless playing style that forces offenses to account for him throughout a play rather than blocking him out of a play or simply having a running back chip him.
Jackson’s experience gave him a place on the roster, but it does not guarantee a steady role. If the Redskins do work a rotation at outside linebacker, Murphy is going to win the top spot in training camp.
Right Guard—Chris Chester vs. Spencer Long
Right guard is arguably the weakest position along the offensive line for the Redskins, as least in regard to the starter. Chris Chester can be solid, but like other typical zone-blocking linemen, he is undersized and, thus, more easily overwhelmed in pass protection.
He’s great in space when pulling and clearing a running lane, but he can be blown up by quicker, stronger defensive linemen, which puts unnecessary pressure on the entire backfield from a crucial interior position.
Unlike Chester, rookie Spencer Long is big and nasty at right guard, which is precisely what is needed to bolster the interior line.
The hiccup in this battle is what the team will do if Chester doesn’t win the battle. Can they expect Long to lock down the position and the likes of either Mike McGlynn or Josh LeRibeus to provide adequate relief as necessary?
Though Moses’ ultimate replacement of Polumbus takes precedence in the headlines, it will be Long making waves when he wins the starting job in training camp over Chester.
Middle Linebacker—Keenan Robinson vs. Darryl Sharpton
The void left by future Hall of Fame linebacker London Fletcher may not lead the Redskins defense into ruin as it initially looked this offseason. Washington didn’t make any splashes in free agency or in the draft, which raised a few eyebrows.
Free agent Darryl Sharpton made sense as a starter, having turned in a career year at inside linebacker with the Houston Texans last season, but the fanfare wasn’t there.
Keenan Robinson, who was originally drafted to be Fletcher’s successor, has battled back from back-to-back torn pectoral muscles to become the leading candidate to finally succeed Fletcher.
What Robinson lacks in on-field seasoning he makes up for by being observant and being a physically gifted prospect, offering ideal size and an upgrade in coverage over Fletcher.
Robinson is the favorite to win the job, as he has been taking the starting snaps for most of the offseason, but Sharpton isn’t to be ignored. He’s just as physically gifted and has veteran experience to go with it, meaning Robinson’s promise and potential alone will not win him the job.
Sharpton will push Robinson and come close to earning the starting job, but Robinson has fought back from injuries and has had to watch from the sidelines too much to just let it be taken from him by someone else.