Washington Redskins: First Impressions from Training Camp
With last season's dismal 3-13 showing now in the rear-view mirror, optimism now sweeps the Washington Redskins' training camp.
Couple the return of a healthy Robert Griffin III with new additions DeSean Jackson and head coach Jay Gruden and it's no wonder the Redskins are being touted as the top 2014 sleeper team to make the playoffs.
Still, for Washington to translate its talent on paper to the gridiron, the team will have to improve on defense. Even with the requisite weapons to boast an elite offense, it should be noted that just last season, only one offense surpassed the 29.9 points per game Washington's defense surrendered.
As is the case for every NFL team, health and player development are also keys to success.
With that said, here are the first impressions from the Redskins' training camp.
LB Brandon Jenkins Gets Cut
A fifth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Brandon Jenkins did little to distinguish himself as a rookie.
Limited to five games on the year, Jenkins languished away on the bench because of his less than stellar play on special teams.
In the aftermath of the team re-signing Rob Jackson and selecting Trent Murphy in the draft, Jenkins couldn't afford any hiccups during training camp if he were to make the team.
With Mike Jones of The Washington Post reporting that the Redskins cut Jenkins on Sunday, this sentiment was hammered home.
Looking at the team's seven-player draft class from last season, Jenkins' fate could be bestowed on some of his classmates.
While David Amerson and Jordan Reed have risen to the starting lineup, Bacarri Rambo, Chris Thompson and Phillip Thomas need strong camps to make the team.
With numerous position battles involving veterans and young players similar to Jenkins, his ouster sets a precedent that potential alone won't garner players a roster spot.
Brandon Meriweather's Illegal Hits
An enforcer known for his jarring hits, Brandon Meriweather has long straddled the line between legal and illegal hits.
Suspended two games—later reduced to one—for making multiple helmet-to-helmet hits just last season, Washington is making it a point of emphasis that Meriweather lowers his target zone.
With Meriweather accumulating more than $135,000 in fines during his career, the team knows his next misstep will result in yet another suspension.
After making what could be deemed an illegal hit in practice, Gruden reminded Meriweather of this fact, according to ESPN's John Keim.
"He understands the next one is going to be a longer suspension. We talked about that. I told him he is going to get a two-practice suspension if he doesn't lower his target," Gruden said.
It wasn't just Gruden, though, hammering this point home to Meriweather. Ryan Clark was also in his ear.
What I tell him is, 'Keep your money.' And you don't want to give up 15 yards. I tell Brandon to keep playing, we are going to try and save him some money. I'm going to try to talk him out of as many fines as I can this year but I don't want him to change his game. I want him to lower his strike zone the best he can because that's the rule. Other than that, man, just keep playing football.
Relatively thin at safety, if Meriweather rehashes old habits, Washington's already porous secondary would be in dire straits.
Emergence of David Amerson
After limited exposure to opposing teams' top wideouts as Washington's nickelback last season, Amerson has declared himself ready to face such players in 2014.
"I want to go out there and whoever shows up in front of me, play them or if they want me to follow somebody, go at him," Amerson said, according to ESPN.com's John Keim.
Dismal against the pass in 2013—to the tune of 244 passing yards allowed per game—such a development would be a godsend for the Redskins. With the likes of Pierre Garcon and Jackson to practice against, Amerson won't falter for lack of preparation.
In his writeup of a training camp practice, Keim highlighted Amerson's play against Garcon.
"Corner David Amerson is doing a nice job working against receiver Pierre Garcon. Played press against him on one route and defended a throw to the outside in a seven-on-seven drill," he said.
From Kendall Hunter and Vick Ballard to Sean Lee, season-ending injuries have already stolen headlines this offseason. With contact practices set to commence in training camp, the injury toll will only rise.
Unscathed on this front thus far in camp, the Redskins did place some noteworthy players on their physically unable to perform list. Of the four players placed on this list, Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher stand out.
Both Hatcher and Bowen are slotted to fill integral roles along Washington's defensive line.
With Bowen and Hatcher out, though, the team is left trotting out the nonthreatening trio of Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker as its starters—a far cry from what Bowen touted to potentially be the "most dominant D-line in the NFL," per Chris Russell of ESPN 980.
Although Baker is a capable fill-in for Bowen, Hatcher's absence can't be masked.
The prize of Washington's free-agent class, for whatever that's worth, Hatcher was being relied upon to take away attention from pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
While the knee surgery he underwent was deemed minor, any time Hatcher misses is crucial as he transitions from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
With the front seven being the key to the team's defense, Washington certainly can't afford a slow start from its marquee addition.
Although he missed only four field goals in 2013 (and made his final 13 attempts of the season), Kai Forbath will have to battle rookie Zach Hocker to make the roster.
With three of Forbath's misses coming from 40-plus yards out last season, it's his leg strength that's put his job up for grabs.
And this weakness doesn't just rear its head on field goals. As ESPN's John Keim noted, Forbath's 14 touchbacks fall way short of the league average of 41.
In contrast, distance appears to be Hocker's strength. During his senior season at Arkansas, Hocker was 5-of-7 on kicks over 40 yards.
With their training camp battle underway, Keim gave insight into the performance of both kickers.
Meanwhile, on field goals: Hocker made all four of his attempts from 40, 40, 44 and 46 yards. All but one down the middle, with another sneaking inside the left upright. Forbath was 2-of-3, with makes from 40 and 41 yards and missing wide right from 49.
While game action will likely be the deciding factor, Hocker is off to a good start in his bid to win the job.