5 position battles to watch at Redskins training camp

July 24, 2018 - 12:24 pm
Categories: 

By Craig Hoffman 

Training camp is here and the Redskins enter with their deepest roster of the Jay Gruden era.

By this reporter's count, there is exactly one position on the roster that has a below-average NFL caliber starter penciled in on the top line of the depth chart.

That position is left guard, where Shawn Lauvao returns at a much lower contract number to battle with Ty Nsekhe, who will audition to move inside from tackle. That’s just one of a few position battles to keep an eye on as we embark for Richmond on Wednesday.

Left guard: Shawn Lauvao vs. Ty Nsekhe

Lauvao has played up-and-down football during his time in Washington. He started the 2015 season well before getting injured and hasn't been a consistent producer since. Much of that is due to injury, but the mounting aches, pains and problems have led to a lessened skill set. The plan was for Lauvao to battle with Nsekhe and Arie Kouandjio for the starting job, but Kouandjio was injured in an offseason workout and will miss the entire season.

That leaves the only competition as Nsekhe, who has played guard in emergency situations, but will now attempt to transition there full time. The Redskins can attempt this thanks to drafting Geron Christian, who fills Nsekhe's role as backup tackle. Nsekhe is much taller than an average guard, which can cause problems blocking throwing lanes, never mind the ability to play in a small space. Alex Smith is 6-foot-4, which helps with the throwing lane issue, but whether Nsekhe can truly excel inside is a major question mark.

Prediction: Lauvao starts.

Cornerback: Orlando Scandrick vs. Quinton Dunbar

The Skins signed Dunbar to a contract extension before the college wideout-turned-corner could even clean out his locker in January. The 26-year-old enters his fourth NFL season with a decent highlight reel, but no track record of consistency as he's never been asked to start regularly. Scandrick was one of the top slot corners in football in 2014 before an ACL injury derailed his career. Days after he signed with the Redskins, Scandrick told me he feels better now than he has in any of the seasons since the injury, and expects to start opposite Josh Norman when the season opens.

Scandrick has played inside and out, while Dunbar plays exclusively outside. The most sure thing is that Dunbar will be opposite Norman in nickel packages with Scandrick (or Josh Holsey, should the second-year player beat him out) playing in the slot. In base though, the competition is wide open. Scandrick is a fiery veteran who will compete his guts out, down in and down out. I just don't think that will be enough to overcome Dunbar's extraordinary talent, which has shaped him nicely into a productive corner over his first three NFL seasons. This is more about Dunbar than it is Scandrick. I really believe he's an NFL starter.

Fabian Moreau has to be mentioned and is the next most likely name to jump into this mix, though I just don't think he's ready. Adonis Alexander is the wild card. I don't think he's good enough – especially considering he missed all of the offseason program – to come in and start, but he is going to fight for a roster spot. Greg Stroman and undrafted free agent (UDFA) Danny Johnson could also fight for spots. Their fates will be determined by special teams and the numbers game when it's time to cut to 53.

Prediction: Dunbar starts outside. Scandrick wins slot corner position over Holsey.

Running back: Byron Marshall vs. Rob Kelley vs. Samaje Perine vs. Kapri Bibbs

The Redskins have a ton of quality running backs on their roster, though two are clearly above the rest. Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson are making this team and will start in their respective roles. Am I getting ahead of myself with Guice, who hasn't even put on pads for an NFL practice yet? Yes. Do I care? Nope.

That leaves one or two spots. I'd be pretty surprised if Gruden doesn't keep four backs, and I think there will be backups for Thompson and Guice respectively. In other words, it doesn't make sense to keep three first- and second-down backs without someone to back up Thompson. They could, if they think Guice can do both, but I believe they like one of their scatbacks too much for that.

That back is Byron Marshall, who Gruden loved when he arrived last year. Marshall is super versatile, having played wide receiver in college at Oregon. He's also got speed that the Redskins have otherwise lacked, and they'll find a role for him, if he makes the roster, to get him a few touches per game. That would knock out Bibbs, who deserves to be mentioned and should be on someone's roster, even if it's not this one.

That means Kelley and Perine are fighting for one spot. The logical play here is that Kelley is going to be the odd man out because he's a former UDFA, and Perine was drafted in the fourth round last year. However, what if it's obvious that Kelley is the better player a month from now? By the way, I think Kelley is the better player.

Prediction: Marshall and Kelley are in. Bibbs and Perine are out.

Middle Linebacker: All of them not named Zach Brown and Mason Foster

Much like running back, the attrition at middle linebacker last year led to a lot of guys getting a lot of reps, and most of those guys are still around. Zach Vigil played well when he got his shot. Martrell Spaight was inconsistent. Josh Harvey-Clemons was clearly at least a year away, but he was the one next to Mason Foster this spring when Zach Brown sat out voluntary OTAs. Shaun Dion Hamilton is a fifth-round draft pick with major upside, having starred at Alabama before two significant leg injuries ended each of his final two college seasons. UDFA Jerod Fernandez was a priority signing post-draft and shouldn't be totally counted out either.

Vigil was the most consistent and his intellect is a major plus. He can play both positions, giving him extra value. The same could theoretically be said for Hamilton, who Nick Saban states is one of the smartest players he's ever coached. He just has to prove in camp he can maintain that trait at an NFL level, and that his athleticism hasn't waned with injuries. The other guys are total toss-ups and their fates are going to come down to how many LBs the staff decides to keep. In the end, I think that number is five. Spaight's got experience and has played a lot on special teams, but that experience hasn't exactly translated into a sparkling resume. Harvey-Clemons has potential, was a seventh-round pick last year and the staff has invested a lot in him.

Prediction: Foster, Brown, Vigil, Harvey-Clemons and Hamilton are in. Spaight is cut.

Wide Receiver: Brian Quick vs. Mo Harris vs. Robert Davis

The Redskins have three surefire guys to make it at wide receiver: Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson. Don't bet your life on anyone else. Trey Quinn seems like the next best bet, having been drafted this year and performed well in the offseason. He's a logical fit to back up Crowder and fulfill the Ryan Grant roll at fourth wide receiver. That leaves one or two spots for Quick, Harris and Davis to fill. For now, I'm knocking out the UDFAs who could make a push, but don't rule out someone having a good camp and getting in the mix.

I never fully understood why Quick didn't play more last year. He’s a veteran who has produced, but the team always veered towards other players. Davis is the upside play, and Gruden has high hopes for the second-year player. Harris has shown flashes, but has never been consistent. There's also a numbers game at play. I'm putting my wideout number at five, considering the Redskins will often use Vernon Davis or Jordan Reed split out and the aforementioned Marshall could be used split out.

That leaves one spot at a position with very little veteran presence. Quick was a presence on special teams when he was active last year. He seems like the smart play, but it's going to depend on how Harris and Davis perform in camp. The way the buzz is trending, smart money is on the youngster.

Prediction: Davis makes the 53. Harris and Quick are out.

These are merely predictions. Nothing has been decided yet. Three long weeks of two-a-days and preseason games will determine these players' fates. Let the meritocracy begin.

Follow Redskins reporter Craig Hoffman on Twitter