photo by Brian Murphy
With training camp less than a week away, we decided now is the perfect time to spotlight the five biggest focal points for the 2009 Washington Redskins. Whether the ‘Skins are able to return to the playoffs for the first time since Joe Gibbs retired (again) or the team is left standing on the sidelines while the NFL postseason rolls around (again) will hinge largely on these five positions.
1. Offensive line - Everyone knows about the right tackle situation. Jon Jansen, for the first time in his professional career, will earn a paycheck from a team other than Washington (he was cut this offseason and is now a member of the Detroit Lions). Stephon Heyer, who has never shown he’s anything more than a serviceable backup, is currently listed as the starter.
The rest of the pack? Mike Williams, the former first rounder whose fall from grace included ballooning to well over 400 lbs. and living on Derrick Dockery’s couch, and Jeremy “Not Jeff” Bridges, who was previously with the Panthers, head into camp the two players most likely to challenge Heyer.
And while it’s easy to see why folks are focused on the uncertainty at right tackle, we’d like to bring up the right guard position. Yes, Randy Thomas is your starter. And yes, when he’s healthy he’s solid. But that’s the problem. At 33, Thomas isn’t getting any younger and/or healthier. And the only depth behind himis Chad Rinehart, who has taken longer to develop than anticipated and someone named Will Montgomery, who even the coaching staff couldn’t identify in a police lineup.
So basically, the best-case scenario is someone from the Heyer/Williams/Bridges trio steps up and entrenches themselves as a bona fide starter at tackle and Thomas is able to stay healthy for 16 games and remains dependable.
But what happens if things play out the other way – no one can lock down right tackle and Thomas gets injured yet again?
2. Linebacker - No one can question the heart or production of middle linebacker London Fletcher, who rose from the unheralded John Carroll College to play 12 seasons in the NFL. Next to Fletcher is Rocky McIntosh, a former second rounder from “The U,” and Brian Orakpo, quite possibly the biggest named defensive player selected in this year’s NFL Draft. On paper, this linebacking corps is solid. But please allow us to play devil’s advocate for a moment.
Fletcher is a 34-year-old who, thanks to injuries last season, looked human for the first time in his impressive career. McIntosh, even though he’s only 26, has the knees of a senior citizen and Orakpo made that big name for himself as a pass-rushing defensive end. Not at linebacker.
A year ago, guys like Marcus Washington, Khary Campbell and H.B. Blades were also in the rotation for playing time, giving plenty of depth in the middle of the defense. With Washington and Campbell no longer with the team, we’re left with Blades and a bunch of uncertainty coming off the bench this season. If someone like Alfred Fincher, Chris Wilson or Robert Thomas can step up, then great. If not, things could get ugly on an otherwise stout defense.
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