WASHINGTON — The Kirk Cousins contract deadline is the last major bit of offseason business the Redskins must tend to before focus switches to training camp in Richmond.
That is now less than three weeks away. Players report to camp on July 27 and the first practice is the following day. Here are five things to watch for as Washington gets set to begin the 2016 season.
How adding Josh Norman helps
Give the Redskins credit. They have become very aggressive in recent years at targeting players who unexpectedly become free agents. They did it with DeSean Jackson in 2014. They did it with Norman this spring when Carolina rescinded its franchise-tag offer and made the star cornerback a free agent. The message to your own locker room? We aren’t messing around. It can have an electrifying impact. The Redskins are still rebuilding under GM Scot McCloughan. He’s an elite talent evaluator. But use the draft as the only tool to acquire talent and it could take years to build a competitive team. Washington has tried to go beyond that. Norman is a case study. His presence alone puts the rest of the corners in a better position to succeed. He’s a stabilizing force. Or should be.
Defensive line competition
This group was so settled last season that only seven players took part in games. But the defensive line didn’t perform to expectations, either, as a group. Not enough pressure on the quarterback. Not enough impact plays. Not enough stopping the run. So it’s harder to gauge what to expect here. Chris Baker (six sacks) is the one known commodity at defensive end. Ricky Jean Francois was solid last season, too. Stephen Paea (foot) missed the final month of the year and only had 1.5 sacks, but he and free-agent signing Kendall Reyes also have track records as contributing role players.
Questions: Does free agent Ziggy Hood, a former first-round pick, push Kedric Golston for a roster spot at nose tackle? And do any of the young players (fifth-round pick Matt Ioannidis, converted defensive end Trent Murphy, defensive end Corey Crawford) emerge during camp.
Washington needs to see wide receiver Josh Doctson on the field. A sore Achilles tendon and foot limited him during offseason workouts. But if healthy, he’s expected to contribute. So is linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens (second round). So is cornerback Kendall Fuller (third round). But there might be limited impact from players beyond the first three rounds of the draft. There was no fourth round pick. It was traded away for picks next year. Ioaniddis (fifth round) could see a role inside on the defensive line. But quarterback Nate Sudfeld (sixth round) better not see a snap all year. Linebacker Steven Daniels (seventh round) will fight for a special teams role and running back Keith Marshall (seventh rounder) has speed to burn, but is a long shot after producing little at Georgia. Undrafted players to watch: Running back Robert Kelly. Cornerback Lloyd Carrington. Safety Geno Matias-Smith.
Several position groups have a key veteran returning. Left guard Shawn Lauvao (torn ankle tendons, foot surgery) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (torn Achilles) are back. Neither participated in offseason workouts. Tight end Niles Paul (fractured/dislocated ankle) did return to the field ahead of schedule. So did Logan Paulsen (torn toe ligaments). Galette is the man who can make the biggest impact as a pass rusher. Lauvao will fend off competition from Spencer Long and Arie Kouandjio. But if fully recovered, both men can stabilize units that wobbled some last year. Without an obvious fullback on the roster, it’s possible the Redskins keep four tight ends with Paul playing that role when necessary.
Who makes the leap
This category has to be a player in position to contribute who takes a step – from role player to starter, from starter to impact player, from impact player to star. Last year you could argue it was inside linebacker Will Compton, who will run the show as the Mike linebacker this season. Last year he was a key reserve in September. By December he had taken over for Keenan Robinson as the primary defensive signal caller.
Some candidates for making a similar leap in 2016: Right tackle Morgan Moses, a starter who needs to cut down on penalties, but has experience now and in his third season could form a really nice right side of the line with guard Brandon Scherff. Running back Matt Jones, who will be given the chance to be a true No. 1 back. Left guard Spencer Long, who started 13 games in place of the injured Shawn Lauvao and has taken snaps at center this offseason. How about one big name? Kirk Cousins. He became a reliable starter the second half of last year. A full season like that will earn him a massive contract and a reputation as a legitimate top-shelf starter. The weapons are there around him on offense.
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