Jay Gruden during an afternoon practice at the Washington Redskins summer training camp in Richmond. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
RICHMOND — The Washington Redskins packed up and left Richmond on Monday morning and now will conclude the remainder of the preseason from their Ashburn headquarters.
Coach Jay Gruden said the camp was “good” but knows a lot of work remains head.
“We’ve got three major preseason games left to finalize our evaluation process and that’s what it’s all about,” Gruden said. “At the end of the day, our ultimate goal after four preseason games is to establish some kind of identity and have a great evaluation on our players.”
The last two weeks have revealed a lot about the Redskins, but plenty of questions remain.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far, plus the areas where the team still needs clarity.
What we’ve learned
The defense is deeper — The coaches still have things to sort out, but it’s evident Redskins officials accomplished their offseason goal of improving the depth of the defense. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his assistants have multiple options at every front-seven position, and those options also offer greater versatility than the Redskins had last year. Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson don’t look like rookies alongside their veteran teammates. They should both make an impact in their first pro season. Third- and fourth-round picks Fabian Moreau and Montae Nicholson have to play catch-up, but once they do, they will help upgrade the depth of the secondary while upgrading the quality of the special teams units as well.
There’s a new attitude — Manusky aims to field a more aggressive defense, and it looks as if new free safety D.J. Swearinger will help with this. Not only does he look to boast a better playmaking skill set than Washington has had on the back end in some time, but he also brings with him a fiery personality and the gift of motivation. Swearinger already has served as the tone-setter. Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel, says Washington’s defensive players play with a greater swagge. He credited Swearinger for that. The improved depth sparked greater competition, which is bringing out the best in players. And the increase in confidence and more aggressive mind-set has Washington’s players flying around poised to make greater impacts.
Fuller is poised to break out — If you had to name a surprise of camp, Kendall Fuller just might be it. The 2016 third-round pick looks like a different player. He’s more confident, he’s more aggressive. He’s playing with good physicality, he’s reading and breaking on the ball well. Fuller has lined up on the outside with greater frequency, but he’s still the top nickelback for now. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. If Breeland has a rocky camp (his practices have been up and down, depending on the day), could Fuller position himself for a greater role? We’ll see. Fuller has looked good at both positions, regardless of the receiver he has covered. Thus far, he looks like he could be the breakout player of 2017.
How good is the offense? — It’s interesting that it was the defense that entered camp with more questions than the offense, but that unit has actually checked off more questions in this first two weeks. The offense basically is stuck in a holding pattern because Kirk Cousins hasn’t had three of his top four weapons (Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson) on the field a whole lot. On paper, this is a very talented group with those three, Terrelle Pryor and Vernon Davis leading the way. Rob Kelley looks to take a leap forward in his second season, and he has quality behind him with Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine. The offensive line is back, and just as solid. But that’s on paper. This unit didn’t look good at all in the six-play sampling against Baltimore. The defense has gotten the better of the offense during scrimmages. We don’t yet know if Cousins can continue to carry this unit despite the absences of the thousand-yard pair of receivers, Pierre Garcon (who left for San Francisco) and DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay). This unit needs to finally get healthy and get some practice time together before we start getting clarity.
Who starts at ILB? — As mentioned, the Redskins have options. It’s just a matter of settling on the best combination. Is it Will Compton and Mason Foster as starters, with the rangy Zach Brown taking the field in nickel packages to better defend the run? Are Brown and Compton the starting combo, with Foster as the third man in? Could Foster actually unseat Compton and start alongside Brown? Young fella Martrell Spaight is champing at the bit to show that he should be considered as an alternative to Compton at the ‘mike’ linebacker spot. But he has to recover from a hamstring injury and display a durability that he has lacked his first two NFL seasons. Either way, Washington has the pieces with which to work, and the answers should present themselves as the preseason continues to unfold.
Can McGee and McClain deliver? — Washington signed free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain to help upgrade the defensive line. Yes, Washington’s line looks better from top to bottom. But it’s Allen, second-year players Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier, less-heralded free agent addition Phil Taylor and 2016 practice squad members A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu that have stood out the most. Thus far, McGee and McClain haven’t looked like difference-makers. As of late, McGee started to flash a little more and receive some snaps with the first team. But McClain remains behind. McGee (five-year, $25 million deal) was viewed by many around the league as a more natural nose tackle than defensive end, but he hasn’t played much nose, and even so, Taylor looks more impactful there. McClain (four-year, $21 million deal) didn’t start full-time in Dallas until last season but hasn’t yet looked like a starter for Washington. These two have work to do to validate Washington’s investments in them.
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Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/football-insider/wp/2017/08/14/three-things-we-learned-at-redskins-training-camp-and-three-questions-that-remain/