1) How will the Redskins deploy their running backs?
ESPN NFCE blogger Dan Graziano reported back in May that Tim Hightower is likely to be the starter at RB, at least to begin the season:
I’ve written this before, and likely will again, but every time I do somebody says, “Nunh-uh. Roy Helu is the guy. And Evan Royster looked good at the end of the year” or something like that. And long-term, Helu might be the guy. And Royster did look good at the end of the year. But I’m telling you — and I am not just speculating here — that the guy Mike Shanahan and the Redskins’ coaches like as the starting running back, assuming everyone’s healthy, is Hightower.
Shanahan sees Hightower as the most complete of the running backs on his roster. He may not be as explosive or dynamic a runner as Helu is, but he’s a dirty-work guy who runs it just fine, catches the ball well out of the backfield and excels in pass protection as a blocker. This last point is likely the most important, since I don’t know if you heard but the Redskins just spent four very high draft picks on a new rookie quarterback and likely rank his protection among their most important 2012 responsibilities.
Everything Dan says above makes perfect sense, but still, if I were a Redskins fan, I would much rather prefer that Helu or even Royster went out, killed it in camp, and made it impossible for Shanny to start Hightower over the two young guys.
Two other RBs I’ll have my eye on are rookies Alfred Morris (6th round) and Lenon Creer (UDFA). In Morris’ last 5 games at Florida Atlantic, he ran for 725 yards and 7 TD’s on 118 carries (6.14 per carry). Florida Atlantic was outscored in those games 190-84. Despite playing from behind in most of those games, the Florida Atlantic passing attack contributed just 826 yards. In other words, Morris basically WAS their entire offense.
I think an interesting camp battle will be between Morris and Creer. Creer was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster (the South Team that Shanny coached), and I liked what I saw of him in practices. Obviously, the Skins staff did as well, since they’re bringing him in for a tryout. The odd man out could be practice squad material. Tristan Davis, as reported by several Redskins beat writers is going on the PUP list.
2) The Skins have a lot of TEs that can run and catch, but can any of them block?
Anyone that reads this website knows that I am a huge Fred Davis fan, and think that he can be a legitimate Top 5 NFL receiving TE threat. Unfortunately, he can’t block. Chris Cooley, meanwhile, used to be thought of as one of the better receiving threats in the league. In fact, if you look at the last 5 seasons in which he played all 16 games, here are his numbers:
If he is healthy, Cooley can contribute in this offense, but like Davis, he is not a good blocking TE. The newest member of the TE group is Niles Paul, who the Redskins are trying convert from WR. Paul is a good blocker for a WR, but blocking guys like Asante Samuel isn’t quite the same as trying to seal the edge on guys like Trent Cole or Justin Tuck. So the Skins have themselves 3 talented pass catchers at TE, but nobody that has proven they can adequately block at the pro level.
The Patriots’ style of deploying 2 TEs against opponents has become a popular trend. Rob Gronkowski broke TE receiving records last year, but he can also run block. Aaron Hernandez is also a great receiver from the TE position, and although he’s not the blocker that Gronkowski is, he’s at least serviceable. In 1 RB 2 WR 2 TE sets, the Patriots force the defense to pick their poison. Do you go base D? Good luck covering Gronkowski and Hernandez with linebackers. Or do you go nickle and leave yourself vulnerable in the running game?
Personally, I wouldn’t fear going nickle against that kind of set against the Redskins, since I don’t respect their TEs as run blockers. It will be interesting to see if Fred Davis has improved his game in that department, and if Niles Paul can make smooth transition.
3) We know Pierre Garcon will start, but how will the rest of the WR roles shake out?
Santana Moss isn’t going anywhere, and I expect him to start opposite Garcon. But we already know plenty about Tana by now. The real competition will be between Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan. In 3 WR sets, Moss will likely move inside to the slot, with either Hankerson or Morgan lining up outside, but I suspect we’ll see the Redskins show a wide assortment of looks.
The Skins’ receiving threats are traditionally thought of as the worst in the NFC East. Personally, I think it’s debatable to say that they’ve leapfrogged the Cowboys (more on that later).
4) What about the OL?
I’ll say this for the Redskins’ OL – They have continuity:
|LT||Trent Williams||Trent Williams|
|LG||Kory Lichtensteiger||Kory Lightensteiger|
|C||Will Montgomery||Will Montgomery|
|RG||Chris Chester||Chris Chester|
|RT||Jammal Brown||Jammal Brown|
There are any number of questions along the Skins OL to be decided in camp:
- It all starts with 3rd year pro Trent Williams. He’s making $60 million over 6 years and he’s protecting the blind side of the most important Washington Redskin of the past 15 years. Williams turns 24 years old today. That’s still very young, but he to be a lot more than just incredible potential this season. Still, in my opinion, he’s easily the Redskins’ best offensive lineman, be can he mature and take that next step?
- Kory Lichtensteiger tore his ACL and MCL in the first matchup against Philly last season, but is reportedly ready to go for the start of camp. How healthy is he?
- Is Will Montgomery’s job a lock? I think the consensus answer is yes, but I’m not so sure. Montgomery is pure JAG, in my opinion, an the only thing keeping his job safe is that lack of another good option at center. Josh LeRibeus played guard at SMU, but the Redskins are teaching him the center spot as well. Picking up an offense while simultaneously learning a new position is a tall order, but if LeRibeus is up to the challenge, could he unseat Montgomery?
- Will Chris Cheester continue to get more comfortable in the Skins’ ZBS?
- How in the world is Jammal Brown still starting? In fairness, he’s been dealing with nagging injuries ever since he joined the Skins, but at what point do you pull the plug? Can anyone legitimately beat him out in camp?
5) Are people going to be evaluating that new QB?