August 20, 2019

Washington Redskins key training camp questions: defense and special teams

Training camp is underway in Richmond and that means the season is just around the corner. The Washington Redskins, however, have a lot of work to do before their opener in Houston.

Each year, every team in the NFL has questions they hope to answer during training camp at each position. That is especially true for a team like the Washington Redskins who enter the season with a new coach. With that in mind, here are the key questions for each position the the team needs to answer during camp:

Defensive line:  Will Jason Hatcher be healthy and how will he improve the pass rush?

The weakness of the defense is the secondary, but with limited options in terms of the draft and free agency, the team approached the problem in a different way by trying to improve the pass rush. If the defense can force the quarterback to make quicker decisions, he is more prone to mistake. Hatcher was a major part of that plan.

Hatcher was one of the few bright spots on Dallas’ laughably terrible defense last season with 11 sacks.  He has started camp on the PUP list, but he is not expected to miss much time.

If he can manage a similar season, Washington’s defense will be much improved even with a weak secondary.

Inside linebacker:  Is Keenan Robinson a starting caliber linebacker?

The team is going all in on Robinson now that London Fletcher has retired. They did sign Daryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan in the offseason, but neither is a starter. Clearly the starting job is Robinson’s for the taking.

After a torn pectoral muscle kept him out of the entire 2012 season, however, the team is putting a lot of faith in the third-year pro.

The team may have depth at the position, but if Robinson is not ready to become a starter it will leave a gaping hole in the defense.

Outside linebacker:  How will Brian Orakpo respond to the franchise tag?

It’s no secret that Orakpo wanted a long-term contract, but instead the team hit him with the franchise tag and he is signed only for the year.

Every player in the NFL responds differently to different situations so how will Orakpo respond to the tag? He may end up having the best year of his career, motivated to earn that long-term, big money extension.

Or he may sulk. He may try to take it easy this season to avoid an injury that could lower the price tag of his next big deal. It could also be a distraction and mess with his mentality.

The fact is, we just don’t know. Most players will say it isn’t an issue, but if he truly feels like he has nothing left to prove he may just bide his time in Washington this year while he thinks about how many zeros and commas he can get thrown into his next contract.

Cornerback:  Is David Amerson ready to start?

Second round draft picks are typically players with starting potential who need a year to develop into an NFL player. The Washington Redskins desperately need their second round pick from 2013 to be ready now.

Besides Amerson, DeAngelo Hall will also start, but there is really no one else the team can turn to if Amerson appears to be in over his head.

E.J. Biggers and Tracy Porter are both depth corners; they can be good in the nickel package and they can step in if either Hall or Amerson get banged up for a play or two, but neither is the type of corner you would want lining up against an opposing offense’s best receivers every play.

Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford are two other options, but they can’t stay healthy and Bashaud Breeland is a rookie from the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

For this defense, it’s Amerson or bust.

Safety:  Are Ryan Clark and Philip Thomas enough of an upgrade from last season?

The secondary was dreadful in 2013, especially at safety. Luckily the team upgraded last season’s safety pair of Brandon Meriweather and Bacarri Rambo with Meriweather and 34-year-old Ryan Clark.

…Uh-oh.

Meriweather has not lived up the expectations he essentially set for himself with a single half a of dominant football he played in 2012. With all due respect to Clark, there’s a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers were willing to let him go. So an upgrade at safety doesn’t appear to be much of an upgrade at all.

Phillip Thomas is also back after a Lisfranc injury forced him to miss his rookie season. He is an unknown commodity and it is hard to tell what kind of impact if any he may have this season.

While the team is undoubtedly better at safety this season, it will be surprising if it is enough of an upgrade to make a difference.

Punter:  Who will win the job?

After a poor 2013 season, Sav Rocca is gone. Now the team will turn to either Blake Clingan and Robert Malone as punter.

What has the consensus been so far on these two at camp? Neither has looked consistent.

Awesome.

Kicker:  Does Kai Forbath have the kicking power to keep his job?

For a kicker who has been as accurate as Forbath has in his two seasons with the team, the Washington Redskins sure seem desperate to replace him.

Forbath made 17 of 18 field goals in 2012 and 18 of 22 in 2013, but it’s his kicking strength, not his accuracy that concerns the team.

Forbath’s average kickoff last season went for 60.2 yards. Of the 32 kickers who attempted at least 50 kickoffs in 2013, Forbath’s average ranked 31st. He was also 32nd in the NFL with only 14 touchbacks.

That’s just not good enough.

If he had the leg strength to boot the ball out of the endzone, this would not be a question; the job would be his and we would all be able to move on. The team showed how serious they were about finding a new kicker, however, not by signing a second one, but by actually drafting one.

Zach Hocker was a seventh-round pick in the 2014 draft which is unusual given that most kickers go undrafted and are available as free agents after the draft. The fact that the team was willing to use a draft pick on him shows that they are ready to move on from Forbath.

Now these two will battle it out in camp. Forbath will have to show a lot more leg strength than he has in the past in order to justify the team cutting a player they drafted as his replacement.


JJ Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is an aspiring sports journalist currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and has his own website atregansports.com. He is also a digital freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore. JJ follows all D.C. sports but specializes in the Capitals. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a contributor to District Sports Page. He also is a college football and NHL blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com and has a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University. Regan follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

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