STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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Players expected to be unrestricted free agents: CB E.J. Biggers, S Ryan Clark, WR Leonard Hankerson, RB Roy Helu, DE Jarvis Jenkins, G Rishaw Johnson, QB Colt McCoy, S Brandon Meriweather, WR Santana Moss, NT Chris Neild, OLB Brian Orakpo, TE Niles Paul, T Tyler Polumbus, CB Justin Rogers.
Starter - Robert Griffin III. Backup - Kirk Cousins. Injured Reserve - Colt McCoy.
Griffin's record-setting rookie year of 2012 was golden. His poor second season was attributed to coming back too soon from major knee surgery and his clash with coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. However, Griffin's 2014 season was arguably worse as he missed six weeks with a dislocated ankle, was benched for former third-stringer McCoy in Week 13 after losing a third straight start and never developed as a pocket passer or showed that he was a good fit for new coach Jay Gruden's offense. So although Griffin is under contract it's not clear that Gruden will want him to return in 2015.
The coach made it clear he prefers the less flamboyant McCoy, who doesn't get sacked or turn the ball over quite as often and led the upset of NFC East champion in Week 8. Cousins took over when Griffin went down, but after a strong start, committed 11 turnovers in less than six games before Gruden replaced him with MCoy, whose season ended with a re-aggravated neck injury in Week 15 and whose contract is expiring. The big question in the coming weeks is whether owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen, who joined Shanahan in trading three first-round selections and a second-rounder to St. Louis for the right to choose Griffin second overall in the 2012 draft, demand that Gruden give him a chance to at least compete for the job next summer. When Gruden, who helped develop pocket passer Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, said that he was excited to coach the athletic Griffin when he accepted Washington's job last January but he seemingly gave up on him after just four full starts. The quarterback drama continues.
Starters - Alfred Morris, FB Darrel Young. Backups - Roy Helu, Silas Redd, Chris Thompson.
Gruden had coordinated a pass-happy offense in Cincinnati from 2011-13, but he didn't have a stud back like Morris, who powered for 2,888 yards in 2012 and 2013. That showed this year when play-caller Gruden repeatedly kicked himself for getting away from the run too soon after the Redskins fell behind. And Morris took a big step back during the final five games, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. He'll surely be out to prove himself again in 2015 but he's not the sure thing he was during his first two seasons. Part of the drop-off has to be attributed to the blockers including Young, who had five touchdowns on just 20 touches.
Third down back Helu played well, averaged 5.4 per carry and caught 42 passes but hopes to find a team that will give him a chance to compete to start which he did part of his rookie year in Washington, 2011. Redd made the team as a rookie free agent and flashed with 4.7 per carry and eight catches, mostly in mop-up duty. Thompson returned from than a year on injured reserve and the practice squad in Week 15 and caught a touchdown pass. Generously listed at 5-foot-8, the 2013 fifth-round pick should battle to be the third down back if Helu leaves as a free agent and if he can upgrade his blocking.
Starter - Jordan Reed. Backups - Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul.
Reed set Redskins rookie records for tight ends with 45 catches and 499 yards in 2013 despite missing seven games. He was sidelined for five more games while catching 50 balls for 465 yards in 2014, a season bookended by his fumbles in opposing territory in the opener at Houston and the finale against Dallas.
Paul had 16 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown during the first three games after Reed pulled a hamstring compared to just 14 catches for 228 yards from 2011-13 and wound up with 39 catches for 507 yards. However, the former receiver isn't a good blocker and that means he's not a sure bet to be re-signed despite his love for and ability covering kicks. Blocking specialist Paulsen didn't have his best year but figures to be back.
Starters - Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson. Backups - Andre Roberts, Santana Moss, Ryan Grant, Leonard Hankerson.
Garcon, led the league with 184 balls passes thrown his way and a franchise-record 113 catches, in 2013, saw those numbers fall to 105 and 68 this year after the acquisition of deep threat Jackson (94 targets, 56 catches), who led the NFL with a 20.9-yard average, making him the first Redskin to do so in 18 years. Jackson, who adjust to deep balls as well anyone in the league, had 13 catches of at least 40 yars, eight of at least 50. He and Garcon combined for only nine touchdowns. Roberts, who was signed from Arizona to start before Jackson was cut by Philadelphia, had a less robust debut with 36 catches as the No. 3 receiver.
Former starter Moss was inactive for seven games and caught just 10 passes. Grant made the team as a fifth-round pick but had just seven catches. Hankerson was activated in Week 11 after recovering from major knee surgery last fall but never caught a pass. The third-rounder from 2011 will likely be gone after catching just 81 balls during his four years. All the receivers suffered from the merry-go-round at quarterback.
Starters - LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Chris Chester, RT Tom Compton. Backups - T Tyler Polumbus, G Josh LeRibeus, G Spencer Long, G Rishaw Johnson. Injured Reserve - T Morgan Moses.
Williams made his third straight Pro Bowl on reputation as his injury-riddled season didn't compare to his strong performances in 2012 and 2013. He ended the year with a high ankle sprain that could keep him out of the all-star game. Lauavo, signed from Cleveland in March, was nothing special. Lichtensteiger made a smooth transition from left guard to center, but had his struggles in pass protection like the entire line as Washington surrendered a whopping 58 sacks. Polumbus fared so poorly in that area that he was benched in favor of the inexperience Compton for Week 8. Compton was adequate and will likely be challenged by a high draft choice or a free agent signee in 2015 while Polumbus isn't re-signed. Chester didn't have a good season and could well be replaced as he turns 32 in January.
LeRibeus, a 2012 third-rounder, has yet to push to start. Neither Moses nor Long, third-rounders in 2014, did so as rookies with Moses flailing in his start at San Francisco when Williams was sidelined. Johnson was signed for Week 17 but didn't play.
Starters - DLE Jason Hatcher, NT Chris Baker, DRE Jarvis Jenkins. Backups - DE Stephen Bowen, NT Barry Cofield, DE Kedric Golston, DE Frank Kearse. Injured Reserve - DE Jason Hatcher, NT Chris Neild.
Hatcher was signed from archrival Dallas with big expectations after he recorded a career-high 11 sacks in 2013. He produced 5.5 for Washington before missing the final three games with a sprained knee and since he'll be 33 in July, his future's not exactly bright. Baker can be over-exuberant on the field but is a serviceable player who can play end or nose. Jenkins, a second-rounder in 2011 who missed his rookie year with a torn ACL, has been a major disappointment and might well not be re-signed.
Cofield, 30, missed the first half of the season with groin and ankle injuries and wasn't his usual forceful self after he returned. Bowen, also a 2011-13 starter, was activated in Week 7 after recovering from major knee surgery last December. The 30-year-old took a while to regain his form. Golston has evolved from starter to decent backup and figures to be the senior Redskin in 2015 which would be his 10th season in Washington if he makes the team. Kearse, a free agent pickup last May, had three sacks in the first seven games but his role diminished after Cofield and Bowen returned. Neild, a 2011 draft choice, has missed two years with torn ACLs and might have spent his last day at Redskins Park. This group needs some young blood.
LOLB Ryan Kerrigan, LILB Keenan Robinson, RILB Perry Riley, ROLB Jackson Jeffcoat. Backups - ILB Will Compton, OLB Gabe Miller, OLB Trevardo Williams, ILB Ja'Gared Davis, OLB Stephen Beauharnais. Injured Reserve - OLB Brian Orakpo, OLB Trent Murphy, ILB Adam Hayward.
Kerrigan stepped out of Orakpo's shadow this season, finishing second in the NFC with 13.5 sacks, a total eclipsed in Washington history only by its two leading sack men, Dexter Manley and Charles Mann. The fourth-year man also tied for the league lead with five forced fumbles even though three-time Pro Bowl pick Orakpo had produced just half a sack before suffering a season-ending torn pec in Week 7. Second-rounder Murphy took over and recorded 2.5 sacks before breaking a hand in Week 16. Still, Murphy showed enough that Washington can let Orakpo, who'll be 29, walk. Robinson, who hadn't played since Week 11 of 2012 because of two torn pecs, displayed superb athleticism and good tackling ability in his first year as a starter. Riley regressed after leading Washington in tackles in 2013 and could be pushed by one-time undrafted rookie Compton or a newcomer to start in 2015. Jeffcoat and Williams each recorded a sack in Week 16 after being promoted from the practice squad.
Special teams captain Hayward's season ended after 11 games with a fractured tibia. Miller played sparingly in seven games, November signee Beauharnais the same in three. So did December signee Davis.
Starters LCB Bashaud Breeland, RCB David Amerson, SS Ryan Clark, FS Phillip Thomas. Backups - CB E.J. Biggers, S Trenton Robinson, S Akeem Davis, CB Justin Rogers, CB Kenny Okoro. Injured Reserve - CB DeAngelo Hall, FS Brandon Meriweather, CB Tracy Porter, S Duke Ihenacho.
Breeland came to training camp hoping to beat out the more experienced Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield for perhaps the fifth and final cornerback job. Instead, by mid-season, the fourth-round pick was Washington's top performer in the secondary. That's not saying much from a unit that lost three-time Pro Bowl pick Hall to a torn Achilles in Week 3 and got just three games from free agent signee Tracy Porter before he, too, went on the shelf for the year. Amerson regressed noticeably in his second season, especially during the final month.
If Hall is healthy for camp, he and Breeland should be the starters with Amerson hoping to be No. 3 ahead of newcomers. Biggers has good speed but not good cover skills and doesn't figure to be back. Rogers (three games) and Okoro (two) were late-season pickups who didn't make major impressions. Clark led the team in tackles in his return after eight years in Pittsburgh but struggled in coverage and will likely retire to a TV studio at 35. Meriweather began the year on suspension for yet another late hit and finished it on IR with a sprained toe. He'll be 31 and a free agent. The Redskins should give 2013 draft pick Thomas and maybe ex-Denver starter Ihenacho who went on IR after just three games a lengthy trial next summer while also adding a couple of safeties with early draft picks or in free agency. Davis and Robinson are really more special-teamers although the latter did have an interception.
K Kai Forbath, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg, KOR-PR Roberts.
Tress Way led the league in gross punting average in his debut season and Kai Forbath made 24 of 27 field goal attempts in his third to rank as Washington's most accurate career kicker. Sundberg was spot-on after missing 19 of 32 games with injuries in 2012-13. However new return man Roberts wasn't very good (7.4 yard-average on punts and 23.7 on kickoffs) and new special teams coach Ben Kotwica's units allowed touchdowns on a blocked punt, a kickoff return and a punt return while not coming close to scoring any of their own.