July 31, 2009

Redskins’ Training Camp Quick Hits: Offense

I was able to attend the second day of Redskins training camp this morning, and came away excited with what I saw.

The WRs played like they had something to prove. They were by far the most impressive group of the day.

Santana Moss was his usual self. He showcased his speed and made some good catches over the middle.

Antwaan Randle El drew rave reviews from local radio shows and he certainly played well. He was running routes suited to a slot receiver, and with Devin Thomas taking reps with the first team across from Moss, it seems that the coaching staff is hoping to move Randle El to the slot where he belongs.

Thomas showed a much better grasp of the offense and, as aforementioned, he took reps with the first team. He went up for the ball with authority and made some tough catches in traffic. His route running was also was much improved.

Thomas’ counterpart, Malcolm Kelly, began the practice well, but dropped a few passes towards the end of it. Kelly has the build of red zone target and he went up strong for the ball today. He could end up being the possession receiver the ‘Skins need. He caught a beautiful deep ball and looked good coming out his breaks.

Marques Hagans had another solid day and is also reportedly competing as a returner. Marko Mitchell flashed some impressive speed and showed reliable hands.

The lone disappointment was Roydell Williams. Williams seemed a step slow and was out-of-sync with the QBs. He couldn’t catch up to three deep balls and it doesn’t look like he’ll make it considering the talent in front of him.

I kept a close eye on Anthony Alridge and though he didn’t stand out, I could see his speed and quickness. He is a shifty back with good ball skills. I really think we could use the speed.

Mike Sellers was the best of the backs today. He caught a deep pass in single coverage and snagged nearly everything thrown his way.

As for the QBs, Jason Campbell was so-so. He missed on a number of sideline routes and deep passes, but excelled in the intermediate routes across the middle.

Colt Brennan has definitely cleaned up his release. He didn’t light it up, but he has definitely distanced himself from both Todd Collins and Chase Daniel in the race for he #2 QB spot.

Stephon Heyer has an early advantage at RT.

However the offensive player of the day was Fred Davis who looks like a man on a mission.

Davis appeared faster, trim, and ready to play. He caught around ten passes, running each one out at a full sprint. He didn’t drop a single pass and ran a variety of routes both from the TE and WR position.

Chris Cooley also lined up out wide opposite Davis and Campbell delivered a TE screen to Davis on the play.

Overall, the offense has more speed, which is essential. Alridge and Mitchell both need to be impressive so their speed can remain on the team. Also, it seems as if the three draft picks from last year may develop after all.

Kelly has the ideal frame to line up outside, but Thomas has more experience and also looked very comfortable with the first team. However, Kelly and Davis will both see the field this year as far as I’m concerned.

Orakpo Signs With The Redskins After Missing First Day Of Camp

The deal had to get done.

Brian Orakpo was signed Thursday evening, missing just a day of training camp before inking his deal with the team.

Terms of the deal are not yet disclosed.

This might very well end up being the most important move in training camp. Orakpo is expected to move from defensive end, the position he played in college, to the SAM linebacker.

The transition requires Orakpo attend training camp and familiarize himself with both his new position and the pro game.

A lengthy holdout would have hurt his ability to quickly make himself an impact player, and would have put his availability for the 2009 season in question. Now those concerns are history.

Orakpo showed some maturity signing his deal before many of the other first round picks above and below him. It's rare for a player to do that since he risks leaving money on the table, but Orakpo proved he wants to play football and play it well.

The Redskins certainly need him to be up to speed in time for the regular season. They don't have another player with Orakpo's skills at the SAM LB position so it was key to get him in camp.

At Redskins Park, the team kicked off the 2009 season with their first set of two-a-days. No injuries thus far which is the big news and things seem to be in much better order as Jim Zorn begins year two.

I'll be at Redskins Park for camp today...In fact in just 6 hours!

July 28, 2009

Vick Rumors All Around

Mike Vick was hanging around NOVA today, leading to more rumors of a Vick-to-'Skins transaction.

Personally, I find it intriguing.

It would be a long-term move

Vick is slated to be up for full reinstatement by week six, meaning he can only practce with the team who signs up to that point. So the Skins can throw out any plans of using Vick in 2009 unless Jason Campbell stinks it up.

Even if Campbell plays well it's my belief he'll be gone due to the fact he isn't a happy camper in DC.

If that holds true the 'Skins would be wise to take a shot at Vick because starting Colt Brennan would be a huge risk.

Vick takes a lot of flack, but he is a decent QB. He isn't the best passer, but he still can win football games with his athleticism.

If he can mature as a passer (and person) it might not look like such a foolish idea come 2010. I just pray we don't overpay for him.

Roster Review: Linebackers

A lack of depth at linebacker last season left the Washington Redskins in a bind when starting strong side LB Marcus Washington was sidelined with an injury. HB Blades didn’t have the speed to play there and once Washington returned, he also seemed to be a step behind.

Washington had become a more of a concern rather than an answer in the starting lineup, which led the Redskins to part ways with him and his big contract this past offseason.

This time around, the ‘Skins drafted a much-needed injection of youth into the linebacking corps. That youth comes in the form of Nebraska’s Cody Glenn and TCU’s, Robert Henson.

But first things first, London Fletcher will return to anchor the defense at middle linebacker. Fletcher hasn’t had less than 100 tackles per season since 2000 and he has shown no signs of slowing down at age 34.

Fletcher possesses all the intangibles. He is a tremendous leader, a motivator, and a vocal presence the ‘Skins sorely need. He is arguably the best run stopping MLB in the NFL and the addition of Albert Haynesworth in the middle will only make him all the better.

With Haynesworth in the middle, offensive lines will have difficulty getting out to block Fletcher, leaving him free. Ray Lewis benefitted when the Ravens added Haloti Ngata and Fletcher will as well with Haynesworth. A good DT works wonders for talented MLBs.

Rocky McIntosh will start at weak side linebacker. McIntosh is entering his fourth season, his second since coming off a season-ending knee injury.

He played well coming back from the injury last year registering 87 tackles, an INT, and two sacks, but he definitely played tentatively on his reconstructed knee at times. Another year removed from the surgery, McIntosh should only improve.

He’s a solid presence against the run and sniffs it out very well. Against the pass, there is room for improvement, but overall there are no glaring shortcomings in McIntosh’s game.

The strong side linebacker position is in flux at the moment.

Brian Orakpo is pencilled in as the starter, but on passing downs he will move to DE to rush the passer.

So in those situations, the Redskins have several options.

HB Blades has experience playing strong side, but he is a liability in coverage. He is smart and a great run defender, but he lacks the speed to cover backs, and the size to cover tight ends.

Chris Wilson is transitioning to LB after playing DE his first few years in Washington. He is quicker than Blades, but his coverage skills are an unknown. He could be used as a pass rusher from LB, but I don’t know if he could handle himself in coverage.

The Redskins could also use either Henson or Glenn if the two veterans fail to pan out.

Glenn entered college as a RB, but made the switch to LB for his final year at Nebraska. This makes him very raw at the position, but he has a lot of athleticism to make up for it. It will most likely take him a season to fully adjust to the pro game and the linebacker position.

Glenn also was suspended for part of the 2008 season for an undisclosed reason. He lied about his suspension, saying it was due to his scalping tickets. He later admitted he lied, and would not reveal the true reason for his suspension.

Henson has already been drawing praise from Redskins Park and might see the field at LB. Like Glenn, he will primarily play special teams and compete for time with the defense.

Henson notched 73 tackles his senior year (270 for his collegiate career), and also had two interceptions to go along with a sack. He’s 6-0, 240 and plays with good fluidity. He was a special teamer for three years before becoming a full time starter so he possesses the ability to make the team covering kicks.

Alfred Fincher made the final roster last year and played in 14 games mostly on special teams. He’s a hard worker and has good size at 6-1, 250. He should also be in the mix for time at LB.

Two other LBs are unlikely to make the team in seven year vet, Robert Thomas, and rookie Darrel Young. Thomas is an Oakland Raiders cast-off coming off a season-ending hamstring injury. He played in just two games last year.

Young is an undrafted free agent out of Villanova who posted 244 career tackles in four years there. He’s the camp longshot.

Overall Grade: B

This was a tough grade to decide on. Fletcher is one of the best MLBs in the game and McIntosh is a steady presence on the weak side.

However, the strong side is anything but stable. I think the ‘Skins may be forcing the issue when it comes to playing Orakpo there. It’s not his natural position. So if the experiment fails, will Washington look for a new LB in 2010?

Even should Orakpo pan out, there isn’t an ideal player to replace him on third downs. Blades isn’t a pass defender, Wilson is more of pass rusher, and Henson and Glenn aren’t going to be instant starters.

It’s quality depth, but those guys aren’t meant to be on the field regularly. Especially not on third downs when the defense is supposed to hold and get off the field.

I believe Blades will come in on third downs due to his experience starting on the strong side last year. He is a liability in coverage, but he can make up for that with his instincts. Wilson would be intriguing as well, and could see time there too should the ‘Skins want some pass rush off the edge.

The ‘Skins turned back the clock with the additions of Glenn and Henson. Henson, in particular, should make an immediate impact on the special teams, but don’t expect to see them much at LB.

The Redskins desperately need to have a strong side LB who can cut backs off from the edge and cover TEs. Orakpo/whoever replaces him on third downs are question marks on the strong side, and that’s what lowers this grade.

July 27, 2009

A Look At Anthony Alridge

This guy could be something special.

Anthony Alridge runs under a 4.3 forty, and is a great receiver out of the backfield. Oh did I mention he returns kicks...and does it well?

Alridge might turn out to be the homerun threat, the 'Skins have been without for a decade.

He attended the University of Houston and spent time with Broncos last year before going down with an injury.

Mike Shanahan was fired after the season and new Denver coach, Josh McDaniels cut Alridge. Shanahan advised Vinny Cerrato to pick Alridge up, saying he was the fastest player player with the football he has ever seen.

For a guy who has produced 1000 yard rushers by the boatload, that's high praise.

The Skins are without a legitimate change-of-pace back at the moment. Ladell Betts runs in the same style as Clinton Portis, which means the 'Skins could an East-West style runner.

Stretching the field both vertically and laterally are musts if Washington wants to improve its offense. Last year opponents crowded the box because there was little to respect outside it. Alridge gives them the ability to stretch it laterally.

The concerns are his small frame (5-9, 175) and the foot injury he suffered last year. However, he'll get a shot to make his mark during preseason.

Here's a video of Alridge who could be a key element to success this year.

I'd love to see him do this in the Burgundy and Gold!

July 19, 2009

Random Thoughts On The Jarmon Pick

First off, I looove it!

The 'Skins picked up Kentucky DE Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft on Thursday.

They had to surrender a third round pick in next year's draft, but Jarmon was rated as high as a second round prospect in next year's draft before he failed testing for a banned substance.

Now he's a pro a year early and the 'Skins can groom him as a replacement for veterans Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn.

My buddy Rich Tandler gave a good writeup on how it is important to be patient with Jarmon. He might not play much on defense this year as he learns the ropes. However, as long as he stays off the inactive list and plays some special teams we won't have to worry about him.

This appears to be a long-term move so we shouldn't pull out our hair if Jarmon plays sparingly on defense this year. I think in the long-term he will pan out.

I have heard Jarmon wants to put his failed test behind him. and that he is very sorry. He was a hard worker at Kentucky and he posted some good workout numbers.

4.76 forty, 19 reps on the bench, 31-inch vertical, and impressive in position drills. Not bad at all.

He's 6-3, 273 and can play DE or DT. He's primarily a pass rusher, but with that size he needs to develop his technique against the run. He would make a great run-stuffing DE.

I wonder if his arrival means Wynn is gone. Rich gives his take on that as well. It's a good one.

The Skins have an overload at DT and DE. Lorenzo Alexander will make a case even though he could be the fifth DT. And that would most likely mean only four DEs.

The roster cuts will brutal on defense as the linebackers are plentiful as well. Three of them are draft picks (Orakpo, Robert Henson, and Cody Glenn). The 'Skins won't want cut the latter two because that would only add to the criticism that Vinny can't draft...So cutting Wynn makes sense. He's the odd man out it seems.

Redskins Roster Review: Defensive Tackles

Defensive tackle is the heart of the Washington Redskins in 2009. This is what will either make or break this team.

I’m not simply saying this because of the money poured into the position.

I’m saying it because the DT Effect will trickle down to the rest of the defense, which will in turn, benefit the offense.

Should Albert Haynesworth be as good as advertised, the Skins will have two DTs capable of wreaking havoc in offensive backfields. Haynesworth and Cornelius Griffin are two of the better penetrating DTs in the NFL and they will have to live up to expectations if the ‘Skins want contend.

If the DTs can provide consistent heat up the middle, it forces the offense to do two things.

First, it disrupts the blocking scheme of opposing offenses and forces them to use an extra blocker on the DTs. Secondly, the pressure from the middle prevents QBs from stepping up in the pocket leaving them vulnerable to the speed rush off the edge from DEs.

Once the offense is focused on stopping the two men in the middle, it makes blitzing much more effective. Previously, the Redskins have struggled getting pressure with the blitz, but now bringing just one linebacker on the blitz may be enough considering the talent in the middle.

Haynesworth is the key. He will be the one to command double teams and cause the most problems. He was signed in the offseason as a free agent, and of course it’s been well documented that he is making $41 million in guaranteed money.

Haynesworth is criticized for his lack of durability and the fact that he has really blossomed only in contract years. Those criticisms ring true, but the ‘Skins made a big gamble that for once I believe will pay off.

Haynesworth is a good athlete with plenty of gas left in the tank. Even if he doesn’t put up big numbers, he should still draw an extra man to block him. Having a player who constantly demands a double team is a luxury the ‘Skins haven’t experienced in this decade.

In addition, the ‘Skins have a veritable smorgasbord of quality depth behind him. Fresh bodies rotating in all game on the defensive line is also something Washington isn’t familiar with. It will keep Haynesworth healthy, and ensure that Griffin will be able to keep his 32 year-old legs under him.

The top two backups are Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery. Both are entering the prime of their careers and have starting experience.

Montgomery played in 14 games last year, registering 23 tackles (nine for a loss) and two sacks. He’s a tall DT at 6-6, but still packs a punch at 312 pounds.

Golston had 28 total tackles (eight for a loss) and two sacks as well. He has flashed some excellent play since being drafted by the ‘Skins in the sixth round out of Georgia. He penetrates well at times, and could really come into his own now that he is backing up Haynesworth and Griffin.

Montgomery and Golston have always been flipped back and forth on the depth chart, but Golston has a higher ceiling. Montgomery has been a steady presence while Golston has shown some playmaking ability. Expect Golston to win out and be the third DT on the depth chart.

Lorenzo Alexander could very well be the most versatile player on the team. He has played on both the offensive and defensive lines, special teams, and a some tight end.

This makes Alexander a valuable asset to the team, but with the ‘Skins holding talented DTs in spades, things might get dicey for him. Washington currently has seven DTs on the roster, and three will most likely be gone come September. The Redskins only had four DTs entering the 2008 season, which is the norm in the NFL.

Alexander is a bit undersized to play every down on either line (6-1, 300). However, he makes up for it with a tenacious approach and a high football IQ. His 2008 stats are actually comparable to Montgomery’s and Golston’s with 17 tackles (11 for a loss) and two sacks.

Alexander will need a monster camp to vault over Montgomery and Golston. There is a chance Alexander could still make the team due to his versatility, but this roster already has an overload at several other positions so somebody is getting the ax.

The remaining players are longshots to make the final roster.

Vaka Manupuna was singed by the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2006 from Colorado. He has been on the roster several times, but has never made it past the final cuts. Last year he played in the Arena Football League and this year, he’ll be playing there again.

Antonio Dixon of Miami was singed as an undrafted free agent this offseason. He recorded just 45 tackles and 2.5 sacks during his collegiate career and was considered an underachiever by scouts with good upside. Unfortunately upside isn’t going to be enough with Albert Haynesworth and four other talented DTs ahead of you.

Overall Grade: A

How can it be any lower? Of course there are question marks, but on paper this is an impressive bunch of DTs.

Remember the DT Effect. They will need to play just as impressively as they appear on paper if the Redskins want to create takeaways and sacks.

If Haynesworth plays as well as he has the previous two years this might be the best crop of DTs in the NFC East. And even if his production dips, this is still an above average group.

July 12, 2009

'Skins Quick Hits

This is a year old, but Cold Hard Football Facts put out a list of the best NFL Franchises. I was pleased to see the Redskins in the the top ten.

Check out some of their other lists and rankings as well. It's one hell of an informative site.

Drew Rosenhaus just added Fred Davis to his stable of clients according to Mike Florio. That makes it nine Redskins with Rosenhaus.

I should hate Rosenhaus and I do when it come down to his style. He plays hardball and makes life miserable for everybody, but he is one of the best interviews on the block. Very straightforward and upfront, which is nice when most interviews are the same tired quotes over and over.

Here's your Tom Brady fix for the day. Rather strange story.

One of the more underdeveloped stories of the offseason is the coaching turnover in Indy. Will this change the Colt's approach? Im curious to see what Indy does differently this year.

July 11, 2009

Three Weeks Until Camp

The dog days of summer are upon us, but they won't be upon the 'Skins for another three weeks. I'm craving a sports fix right now, but I'm not going to get one until training camp starts.

The MLB All-Star game just doesn't cut it, but two-a-days in 90 degree heat will sure hit the spot.

So here's a little training camp preview from yours truly as Washingtonians get ready for the start of what is hopefully a non-mediocre year for the Redskins.

Position Battles

1. Starting Right Tackle: Stephon Heyer vs. Mike Williams vs. Jeremy Bridges

Prediction: Heyer

2. Starting Strong Side Linebacker: Brian Orakpo vs. Cody Glenn vs. HB Blades (We could throw Alfred Fincher and Robert Henson into the mix too.)

Prediction: Orakpo/Blades

3. Backup Running Back: Ladell Betts vs. Marcus Mason

Prediction: Betts (I hate the fact the 'Skins will most likely keep on an overpaid, underachieving, injury-prone back like Betts on the roster, but for some reason they don't seem to get he is stealing from them. Mason will need another monster preseason to make the team.)

Backup Quarterback: Colt Brennan vs. Todd Collins vs. Chase Daniel

Prediction: Brennan (Daniel will get the axe, Collins will take the number three spot.)

Nickel Cornerback: Fred Smoot vs. Kevin Barnes vs. JT Tryon

Prediction: Barnes

Kicker: Dave Rayner vs. Shaun Suisham

Prediction: Can't we find anybody else??? Suisham

Burning Questions

1. Can the two young receivers, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly emerge as the possession receivers the 'Skins so desperately need?

Thomas might turn out to be the answer. He came in as a raw prospect, but he has had a year to work himself into NFL shape. He improved over the course of last season and has been reported to look even better through the OTAs. My money is on him. Kelly needs to get healthy or he will never play on a consistent basis.

2. Will a homerun threat surface this year?

Two guys have the potential to be the Redskins' Devin Hester. Anthony Alridge and Dominique Dorsey are both small, quick players who could make an impact. Dorsey was a star returner in the CFL while Alridge received high praise form Mike Shanahan who urged Vinny Cerrato to give him a look. Alridge could be the burner I long to see in DC.
3. Will we see Jim Zorn implement a two-tight end set this year?

Only if second year USC product Fred Davis bounces back from a bad rookie year. Davis started slow his freshman year with the Trojans, but he eventually became the nation's top TE in 2007. Here's hoping that trend translates over to the NFL.

4. Will Colt Brennan make a push for the starting QB job?

He very well could. Jim Zorn is on a short leash as Dan Snyder is caught up in rumors of Bill Cowher and Shanahan as possible head coaches in 2010. So, should Brennan drastically outplay Campbell in the preseason, then the Cult of Colt may have reason to cheer come week one.

Remember however, that Campbell usually plays well in the preseason. He looked sharp in 2007 against the Jags and in 2008 against the Colts and Jets.

5. Where will Brian Orakpo line up on defense?

It appears as if Orakpo will play LB on most rushing downs and line up at DE on passing downs. I don't like this move because it doubles the work Orakpo will have to put in during his rookie year.

He is a natural pass rusher and the 'Skins may be hurting his progression if they throw him at LB. It would be better for the long-term to play Orakpo at DE and suffer through one season of shaky LB play, but Greg Blache seems to think otherwise.

Overall, it should be an interesting camp. I will be attending as many sessions as possible and I can't wait to mingle with all the fans and watch the team get back to work.

Redskins Roster Review: Tight Ends

For all of the offensive futility the Washington Redskins have struggled through, one thing they haven’t lacked the past few seasons is a quality corps of tight ends.

Chris Cooley will remain the starter coming into 2009 and with good reason. A third round draft choice out of Utah State, Cooley has become the fan favorite in DC. He posted 83 catches for 849 yards last season, and improved as a blocker as well. He is the Redskins lone threat over the middle and he moves the chains more consistently than any of Jason Campbell’s other targets.

This offseason Cooley shed 20 pounds in an effort to become more of a threat with the ball in his hands. Early indications are that this was a successful shedding. Cooley has been more explosive and has added strength according to reports.

Cooley wasn’t targeted enough in the red zone and it showed up on the stat sheet as he snagged just one TD pass last season. That marked the first time in his career that Cooley caught less than six TDs in a season.

Expect that to change as head coach Jim Zorn will better utilize him in the red zone. In addition, Zorn is hoping to see the development of his second round pick from last year, USC tight end Fred Davis.

Davis won the Mackey award in 2007, given to the nation’s top collegiate TE. However, that success hasn’t yet translated to the professional level.

Davis saw very little time last season, and some question his commitment to football last season. However, Davis possesses the size and skill to be a soid complement to Cooley.

A two TE set would be an ideal formation to work out of for Campbell. Both TEs are big with tremendous ball skills, meaning mismatches for opposing defenses. However this can’t happen if Davis doesn’t jump ahead of the curve in his second year.

Davis couldn’t even take the number two TE spot last season. That belonged to Todd Yoder. Yoder was used in a reserve role, but he did catch eight passes for 50 yards and a TD.

Yoder was more of a blocker and he filled the role well whenever he got on the field. He possesses a blue collar work ethic that endears him to the fans. Davis should watch him closely and pick up on his drive because Yoder plays beyond his abilities thanks to the work he puts in.

The final TE on the roster is undrafted Delaware product Robert Agnone. Agnone caught 71 passes for 886 yards and 11 TDs in his college career, in which he spent some time with current Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Agnone is the tallest TE on the team at 6-6, but he remains a longshot to make the final roster.

On a side note, Zorn’s second year running the west coast offense will be under heavy scrutiny. He underused Cooley last year especially in the red zone, something that can’t be repeated given the underachieving WR corps. If Davis progresses, then Zorn will have to give preference to the TEs because they give him legitimate targets over the middle.

In addition, Campbell is comfortable throwing to Cooley on third downs. Zorn did get Cooley involved on third down last year, but that was simply because the receivers struggled to gain separation. Cooley must become a primary option the passing game and not just on third down because he is the best the Redskins have in terms of consistency.

Overall Grade: A-

You have to like what Cooley gives you every week. He shows up to play every game and is Mr. Reliable. Considering the sometimes woeful state of the Redskins’ offense, it’s refreshing to see Cooley on the field.

Yoder isn’t a gamebreaker, but his main contributions don’t often show up on the stat sheet. He won’t get any attention, but he gets the job done and is an adequate number two TE.

Of course this grade would be an A if Davis just flashed his amazing potential. Davis is like much of the rest of the Redskin offense. The potential is there, but remains untapped.

Redskins Roster Review: Wide Receivers

For the amount of money and draft picks poured into the position, one would expect the Washington Redskins to have quite a productive corps of receivers. Unfortunately, things haven’t been up to par when it comes to finding reliable targets for Jason Campbell.

Santana Moss is the lone wide out who can strike any fear into opposing defenses, but his lack of size prevents him from consistently getting open. He also has trouble with his focus and can go through stretches where he drops passes.

Despite this, Moss is the ‘Skins best offensive weapon. He is explosive and can make plays from anywhere on the field. He runs good routes and when he touches the ball five or more times in a game, the Redskin offense is much more dangerous.

Moss is often double-teamed and can’t ever seem to stay healthy so he disappears at times, but when he’s rolling it’s tough to stop him.

To be truly successful in the passing game, the Redskins need a big possession receiver to line up opposite Moss. A big second option would give Moss more opportunities to make plays, and give the ‘Skins a wide out who can consistently move the chains on third down.

Last year, Washington fizzled out on most passing downs due to their lack of a receiver who could use his strength to get position on opposing corners past the marker. This year they will need to improve on passing third downs if they want to wear down opposing defenses.

Hoping to fill the role of possession WR are the two second-year youngsters, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Thomas played in all 16 games last year, catching 15 balls for 120 yards. Kelly hardly saw the field and only grabbed three passes on the year.

Both receivers are well over six feet and experienced success in college. Thomas is still raw, but has improved on his routes. He is more familiar with the system this year, and should improve on his rookie campaign.

Kelly dazzled early last offseason, but a bad knee ruined his 2008 season. He has the build of a terrific red zone target and could develop into the possession threat the ‘Skins want. However, like Thomas, Kelly must prepare with more intensity and be more thorough when it comes to making the transition to the pros.

Both young receivers were overwhelmed by the NFL experience last year and admitted they expected to jump right in. This offseason, they have been reportedly making progress something that is imperative to the success of the passing game.

If neither draft pick pans out, the Redskins will have once again depend on a slot receiver to play in the number two receiver role. Antwaan Randle El is shifty and operates best out of the slot, but a lack of secondary options has forced him to play out of position for the past two years.

Randle El is small like Moss and lacks Moss’ acceleration, making it very difficult for him to break past top corners. A solid bump and run secondary will more often than not render Randle El useless. He is better suited to the match-ups he would face in the slot.

Randle El is effective in the red zone when Jim Zorn moves him around. Randle El is an effective weapon when used in the right circumstances, but the lack of a legitimate number two WR leaves Washington unable to maximize Randle El’s talents.

Behind the first four targets there is little to speak of.

Roydell Williams led the Titans in receptions back in 2007 with 55, but he sat out 2008 with an injury. With his experience, Williams could end up as the Redskins’ fifth receiver on the depth chart.

Free agent pickup Trent Shelton, and seventh round draft choice Marko Mitchell are both hoping to compete for the fifth receiver spot. They are the biggest challengers to Williams.

Several other WRs are roster longshots. Marques Hagans, Keith Eloi, and Jaison Williams make up the rest of the receiving corps, but come september they will be looking for work unless they vastly overachieve.

Overall Grade: D+

Sure Moss is a gamebreaker the ‘Skins, but he’s their only one and not even a top ten receiver in the league. He will have his moments and yet if no one can help create some space for him, there’s no way Washington will become a two-dimensional offense.

The passing game is woeful because there’s no one else besides Moss who even strikes a hint of fear into opposing defenses. They gameplan to stop Moss. Unless Kelly and/or Thomas steps into the possession receiver role, this is a very, very ordinary air attack.

Redskins Roster Review: Offensive Line

If the Washington Redskins want to improve upon a mediocre 8-8 2008 campaign then they’ll need to start up front with the offensive line.

Strong play in the trenches was rarely witnessed last year as the Redskins’ collection of blockers proved too old and injury prone.

The line gave up 38 sacks, which tied for the fourth most in the NFL last season. That number must be reduced if the ‘Skins want to sniff the play-offs.

As far as run blocking is concerned, the chemistry of the offensive line really makes the going easier for Clinton Portis, but the running game regressed as the 2008 season wore on partly due to breakdowns in the blocking scheme.

The new addition to the starting offensive line is left guard Derrick Dockery. Dockery was originally a Redskin, but left for Buffalo as a free agent several years ago. He now returns after two disappointing year with the Bills.

Dockery brings a massive presence to the left side and is a great pulling guard. He fits the Redskins system well and is definitely an upgrade over Pete Kendall from last year. The main question will be whether or not he can rebound from his performance in Buffalo. He has played here before with many of the same guys on the line so expect him to came back strong.

Next to Dockery is pro bowl left tackle, Chris Samuels. Samuels is a consistent pass blocker who needs little help against most pass rushers. However, he sometimes suffers from mental lapses and does struggle when lining up against premier pass rushers.

Samuels is probably the Redskins steadiest player on the o-line and should love seeing Dockery next to him again. Together they form a strong left side that will be the core of the unit.

Casey Rabach will anchor the line at center as he has for the past four seasons. Rabach is a smart player who has only missed one game during his tenure as a Redskin. However in certain games, he was shaky when it came to providing a a solid push in the run game.

The Redskins struggled to win the trench battles along the interior line last year and Rabach was one of the players at fault. He lacked the leverage to keep big defensive tackles out of the backfield and it hurt the ground game badly at times.

This offseason, coaches have commented that Rabach looks very impressive and really he brings a lot to the table already. He can read defenses with best of them and is usually a solid blocker. It’s just those few times a game where he is badly beaten that downgrades his overall performance.

Lining up at right guard is Randy Thomas who was acquired from the Jets in 2003 has been arguably the best blocker on the team when healthy, but he has suffered two major injuries since 2005 and is 33 years old.

Thomas is aging and that will be a concern, but he did start in all 16 games last season and is now two years removed from the torn triceps he suffered in the 2007 campaign. If Thomas can play at 100% expect the Redskins to have a strong ground game between the tackles.

Thomas is a force as a pulling guard, and when he is at full go the running game benefits. Portis loves to run behind Thomas and with Dockery in the mix, the ‘Skins have a better interior line to employ a power running game on either side of the ball.

It is imperative the Redskins see strong play from the guard positions. Should Thomas and Dockery play like they did in 2005 when it was rare to see a bad day on the ground, expect the going to be that much easier offensively. Good performances from those two will also take some pressure off of Rabach in the middle.

The starter at right tackle is a mystery right now. Jon Jansen was cut after spending his entire career with Washington. His departure leaves three choices at RT: Stephon Heyer, Jeremy Bridges, and Mike Williams.

Heyer, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2007, has played with the Redskins for two seasons. In his rookie season, Heyer stepped up to the task as he started at RT for 15 games and held his own against the likes of Jason Taylor and Michael Strahan. Last year he won the starting job over Jansen, but lost it to injury and never got back to form.

Heyer needs work in the run game, but he really impressed in pass protection in 2007. He has reportedly improved his conditioning and his technique will improve with time. Offensive line coach Joe Bugel often raves about Heyer, and his experience with the ‘Skins puts him on the inside track for the starting RT spot.

Bridges played with Carolina last year and has experience at tackle and guard. I would doubt he earns a starting role, but he will be a valuable backup because of his versatility.

Williams is a former first round pick from Texas where he played with Dockery. He proved to be a bust during his first stint in the NFL in which he played for Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Injuries and weight problems contributed to his failure, but the real reason according to reports, was that Williams lacked the work ethic necessary to play professional football.

Williams was out of football when Dockery persuaded the ‘Skins to give him a shot. He is working his way down to a reasonable playing weight in hopes of competing for the right tackle spot.

Heyer has the upper hand in this battle, but his biggest challenger is undoubtedly Williams. If Williams can push himself and play with some passion, he will make the team at least as a backup. He has the size to dominate on the line and the skills are there. It’s simply a matter of him preparing for the rigors of a full season.

The backup offensive linemen are a concern. Rabach, Thomas, and Samuels are all over 30, and so a lack of quality depth means they will have to play at an extremely high level.

Chad Rinehart was drafted last year to play guard and he flopped in his rookie campaign. Despite all the injuries to the line in 2008, Rinehart didn’t even dress for a single game, which coaches attributed to his inability to adapt to the professional level. In year two, Rinehart is a work in progress and we won’t see how far he has come along until the preseason begins.

Devin Clark saw some action last year late in the season after playing with the practice squad. He played some tackle, but his role is uncertain as of now.

The same can be said for D’Anthony Batiste, Rueben Riley, Will Montgomery, Scott Burley, and Edwin Williams. None of these players has seen game action with ‘Skins and both Burley and Williams are rookies. Like Heyer, Burley and Williams went undrafted out of Maryland. Burley played both left and right tackle for the the Terps while Williams played center.

Williams might end up being quite a find for the Redskins who are in need of a backup center. Williams played in all 13 games last year for Maryland and was a first team All-ACC selection.

Overall Grade: C+

This year’s edition of Bugel’s “Dirtbags” is nothing to write home about. The pass protection will be a real concern on the right side and if Thomas struggles the running game will only see consistent success from the left. The addition of Dockery was a good move as he should bring his game back to the level he played at in 2005.

Even if everyone stays healthy this won’t be a great offensive line. They don’t match up in the trenches against New York, Dallas, or Philly which is a big problem. The division has such talent defensively that it will be tough for the Redskins O-line to take the pounding week in and week out. They are just too old and feature almost no quality depth.

However, the running game will see a boost. Having Dockery and Thomas pulling out in front of a back opens up the ground game. If that takes off, then ‘Skins might be able to really get into a rhythm and make the most of Portis’ efforts.

Next we move onto the defense…

Redskins Roster Review: Running Backs

Since 1996, the Washington Redskins have been blessed with a bevy of talented running backs. Terry Allen, Stephen Davis, and Clinton Portis have all set various franchise records. Each raised the bar for the Redskins’ single season rushing record.

Portis is the current RB for the Redskins. He already holds franchise records for most rushing yards in a single season and most 100-yard games in a season. He ranks second on the franchise all-time rushing list and rushing attempts list.

There is no question Portis is second only to John Riggins amongst the backs the Redskins have had in their franchise history. However, coming into the 2009 season, Portis has plenty to accomplish.

Despite the productive years Portis has given the team, he has yet to advance past the divisional round in post-season play. To top it off, he has struggled to stay healthy and is in danger of burning out in the next few seasons.

Here’s a list of Portis’ carries per season:Portis will turn 28 in September, so according to the usual running back shelf life, he has about a year or two of solid production left. However, Portis is a feature back like none other, and his massive amount of carries prove it.

2004: 343

2005: 352

2006: 127 (missed time due to an injury)

2007: 325

2008: 342

That’s a total of 1,490 carries over five seasons for an average of 298 per season. Throw in his 162 catches over the past five seasons and Portis essentially makes up half of the offensive production over that time.

What’s impressive is that Portis is still good enough to produce, even though he is the only consistent offensive weapon the ‘Skins have.

He routinely faces eight defenders in the box, but that doesn’t stop him from racking up plenty of 100-yard performances.

How long can Portis’ impressive seasons continue with all the wear and tear he undergoes every season?

That will be a key question entering this 2009 season for the Redskins. Success depends on Portis playing up to par.

If the Redskins can muster some semblance of a downfield passing game, Portis, if healthy, will see less men in the box and more big gains.

No one expects the Redskins to become the ‘99 Rams. And they don’t have to be with a healthy Portis and a solid passing game.

They proved it during the first few weeks last season. Portis is capable of taking over when Jason Campbell commands even a little respect.

This year the offense appears to be past the growing stages. Players have expressed more confidence and the comfort level in the west coast offense has definitely gone up a notch.

Hopefully, this will translate to the ‘Skins balancing out their offense and adding that all-important second dimension.

Portis isn’t a liability whatsoever. He blocks well, catches passes out of the backfield, and can run between the tackles with the best of them. He isn’t a home run threat anymore, but he can still move the chains.

Of course it would be ideal to have a speedster behind him. The Redskins are in desperate need of a guy who can rip off huge runs of 40 yards or more.

They haven’t had one in years, but this year they might have found one (more on him later).

Ladell Betts is the backup, but he has been disappointing following his big 2006 campaign in which he ran for 1,100 yards in Portis’ absence. He signed a big contract extension after that year and has been non-existent since.

Granted, Portis receives the bulk of the workload, but the money poured into Betts means he needs to improve his production.

Betts has rushed for just 541 yards since 2006 and has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. He isn’t the blocker Portis is, and he has had a penchant for fumbling.

Betts really isn’t worth the money he’s being paid and the ‘Skins might have a cheaper, and perhaps more talented, alternative in Marcus Mason.

Mason rolled through last year’s pre-season, but his inability on special teams kept him from making the final roster in 2008.

This year, Mason has been working on improving on special teams and a strong pre-season might land him on the roster. There has been no talk of replacing Betts, but Mason would be the wiser choice between the two.

Mason is shifty and has incredible patience. He has great vision and always seems to hit the right holes and the right time. He isn’t a speed demon, but he runs effectively.

Rock Cartwright saw little time at running back last year and he will be fighting for a roster spot this season. Cartwright has a downhill running style that isn’t suited for the stretch runs Zorn uses often.

He is strictly a between the tackles runner and Zorn had such little faith in him that he brought in Shaun Alexander when Betts was banged up last year.

Cartwright works extremely hard and yet he will remain a Redskin solely by contributing on special teams. He covers punts and returns kickoffs, but his impact on the ground game will be as small as last year’s.

Lastly, the Redskins picked up Anthony Alridge off of waivers several months ago.

Alridge ran a 4.22 in his pro day workout in 2008 and was picked up by the Broncos as an undrafted free agent. He was placed on injured reserve and waived following the season.

Mike Shanahan advised Vinny Cerrato to sign him reportedly calling him the fastest player he’d ever seen with the ball in his hands. So Alridge might be the explosive force the ‘Skins need.

Imagine running the draw on a third and long and seeing a big 80-yard score. How about snagging a a little swing pass into the fat and seeing a glitzy 75-yard scamper?

Washington hasn’t had someone who could turn the tide like that since Brian Mitchell. Alridge might turn out to be the ‘Skins ace in the hole.

Overall Grade: B+

The Redskins have a strong starting option in Portis, but behind him they need to get things sorted out.

Mason will save cap space and do a better job supporting Portis than Betts. However, I expect to see Betts hold the No. 2 spot. And that would be a major mistake.

Alridge is an exciting prospect who could turn out to be a key component to the ‘Skins ground game. It’s not a feature back league anymore so it never hurts to have two or three guys who can contribute.

So Portis receives an A- while the confusion behind him lowers it to a solid B+. Hopefully a couple correct decisions in training camp bring up the grade.