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NFL Camp Preview: New Washington leaders look to RG3

The SportsXchange

ASHBURN, Va. -- After some changes at the top, the Washington Redskins will head to their first training camp workout in Richmond, Va., on July 24 with plenty to prove.

Last year's 3-13 nosedive after a 10-6 record in 2012 led to the dismissal of head coach Mike Shanahan and his son and offensive coordinator Kyle. Taking their places are Jay Gruden as head coach and Sean McVay as offensive coordinator and they have no prior experience in those respective roles.

Their most conspicuous challenge will be to restore quarterback Robert Griffin III to star status. Heading into camp, he certainly is the player with the most to prove.

Two years ago, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner/second overall pick in the 2012 draft set rookie quarterback records for passer rating and rushing yards and electrified Washington fans while leading the Redskins to a 10-6 record and their first NFC East title in 13 years. That season ended with a playoff loss to Seattle in which Griffin tore his right ACL and MCL.

Griffin missed the entire offseason, but pushed to be on the field for training camp and to start the season opener after being held out of all four preseason games. He wore a brace to protect his knee for all of 2013 and was never the same dynamic performer that he had been in 2012 before being benched for the final three games by Mike Shanahan to supposedly prevent further hits in a lost season.

With his knee healthy and the Shanahans gone, Griffin needs to show that he is more like the dazzling performer he was in 2012 than the lackluster player he was in 2013, or his future and that of the Redskins will be in jeopardy.

While Griffin will probably dominate the news, there are other issues of importance to be resolved in training camp.

At inside linebacker, London Fletcher retired after starting every game the past seven seasons while making four Pro Bowls, calling the defensive signals and serving as a captain.

Washington signed free agents Akeem Jordan (98 games, 44 starts), Darryl Sharpton (42 games, 19 starts) and Adam Hayward (107 games, 13 starts), but the leading candidate appears to be Keenan Robinson, a fourth-round pick out of Texas in 2012.

Robinson's rookie year ended with a torn pec on Thanksgiving at Dallas and he missed all of 2013 with a similar injury suffered before preseason began. However, Robinson spent more time working with the starters in minicamp than any of the newcomers.

There is a lot of concern about the defensive secondary. Going into camp the corners are DeAngelo Hall on the left and David Amerson on the right while Ryan Clark is the strong safety with Brandon Meriweather at free.

The backups at corner are Tracy Porter, E.J. Biggers, Chase Minnifield, Peyton Thompson, Bryan Shepherd and Courtney Bridget. Backup safeties are Bacarri Rambo (free), Phillip Thomas (strong), Trenton obinson, Akeem Davis, and Ross Madison.

The Redskins allowed 60 touchdown passes the past two seasons and were getting burned for big play after big play. And yet, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris were retained by Gruden, who worked with each man elsewhere. Amid the wreckage that was Washington's 2013 secondary, Hall -- who had been cut for salary-cap reasons before being re-signed shortly thereafter -- had a strong season, earning a new contract. With long-time safety Reed Doughty not re-signing, Hall is also the unquestioned leader on the back end. The question is when Hall, who is only 30 after playing 10 NFL seasons, begins to wear down, as Fletcher did in 2013.

Amerson, college football's interceptions leader in 2011 and Washington's second-rounder in 2013, had a respectable debut season as the third corner and now succeeds Josh Wilson (unsigned) as the starter opposite Hall. The savvy Clark, whose departure for Pittsburgh after 2005 helped turn a playoff team into one of the NFL's worst defenses in 2006, returns to Washington after an eight-year absence. It remains to be seen how much he has left as he turns 35 in October.

Meriweather, suspended twice for being a human missile, settled down during the second half of last year but hasn't been close to the playmaker the Redskins hoped when they signed him before the 2012 season. Rambo surprisingly opened his rookie year of 2013 as a starter, but spent most of the season in former head coach Mike Shanahan's doghouse. Thomas, who led college football in interceptions in 2012, missed his rookie year of 2013 with a foot injury suffered in the preseason opener.

The Redskins hope that he and Rambo will supplant Clark and Meriweather as the safety tandem sooner rather than later. The fast Biggers will try to hold off former New Orleans and Oakland starter Porter, who missed offseason drills while recovering from shoulder surgery, to be the third corner.

Crawford, the third corner for part of his rookie year of 2012, missed last year with a torn ACL and was held out of spring workouts, too, but is in the mix as is aggressive fourth-rounder Breeland. Robinson played in 11 games last year, mostly on special teams. Minnifield and Thompson only have practice-squad experience. Davis didn't make Seattle's roster as an undrafted rookie in 2013. Shepherd, Madison and Bridget are all rookie free agents.

"I think I grew a lot as a player (as a rookie)," said Amerson, who led the nation with 13 interceptions as a North Carolina State sophomore in 2011 but picked off just two balls in 2013.

"Going into my second year, I feel very comfortable. I got my feet wet a lot last year. I'm out there kinda in my groove. I've kinda got my swagger a little bit. I feel good about it. I feel it's going to be a good year for me. You can see the difference in my play, my confidence, my fundamentals, everything. If I do lose my job, I'll be 100 percent effort. If a guy takes my position, all hats go down to that guy."

Hall said that Amerson has been the perfect protege.

"He's doing everything I asked him to do as far as getting ready for the season," said Hall, a 10-year veteran who was slowed by a minor injury during minicamp but at age 30 has started every regular-season game the past four of his six total seasons with the Redskins.

"He hit the offseason program hard. He's out here every day working, being competitive, trying to get better. Playing (so much) as a rookie gave him a lot of confidence (after) taking some lumps. He has the total package. Any time you're a 6-1 corner who can run, has great ball skills and get up there and pressure at the line of scrimmage. If he can work on his technique out here and become fundamentally sound, there's no reason he can't track No. 1 guys all game. I expect him to have a breakout year."

As if all that potential change isn't enough, safety Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely again for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Jackson, 29, missed the last two seasons because of suspensions. The Redskins just brought him back this offseason when he was reinstated in May. It is his fourth career suspension overall. He last played an NFL game in 2011.

On offense, it may be interesting to watch free-agent rookie Silas Redd out of USC. The 5-foot-10, 212-pounder earned raves from coaches for his shiftiness and power.

Starter Alfred Morris rushed for 2,888 yards and 20 touchdowns during his first two seasons, but Washington might cut ties with backups Roy Helu and Evan Royster, both drafted in 2011 by the Shanahan regime. They might be replaced with swift sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk from Baylor, and Redd.

At minicamp, Redd made a nice catch downfield and displayed ability in pass protection. Redd played behind Royster as a freshman at Penn State in 2010, but when the school was put on probation because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Redd transferred to Southern Cal, where he ran for 1,281 yards and 10 touchdowns the past two seasons.

At wide receiver there are what might be called good problems.

When the Redskins gave Andre Roberts a four-year, $16 million deal -- with $8 million guaranteed -- the free agent was expected to replace the departed Josh Morgan as the No. 2 receiver opposite record-breaker Pierre Garcon.

But when DeSean Jackson, the 2013 Pro-Bowl pick, suddenly became available after being cut by Philadelphia in April, Washington pounced, offering $16 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. Suddenly, Roberts, who was supplanted by Michael Floyd after two years as the Arizona Cardinals' starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald last season, was right back where he started -- the first guy off the bench.

Roberts was disappointed, but he still figures to see plenty of action with Morgan gone, the ever-promising Leonard Hankerson still recovering from major knee surgery in December and former starter Santana Moss having turned 35.

"He might be flying under the radar for you guys, but he's not flying under the radar for us," said Griffin during spring workouts. "He's been very effective out here, explosive, making tough, hard catches for us, catches that we need and plays that we're going to need him to make. He wants the ball in his hands. He feels like he can make plays with the ball in hands and I can't wait to see it."

There is healthy competition at that spot and even fifth-round pick Ryan Grant, from Tulane, opened some eyes during spring workouts.

"He plays like a 10-year veteran already," Gruden said of the 6-foot, 197-pound Grant. "He's very smooth. He understands route concepts. He understand depths and how important they are and how to set people up. (He gets) in and out of breaks effortlessly. The ability to be able to move him around outside and inside I think is a huge benefit for us and him. He's going to be a very good football player."

Zach Hocker, the first kicker drafted by the Redskins since 1999, has a shot at beating out Kai Forbath although the incumbent made 35 of 40 field-goal attempts the past two years. That's because Hocker, a seventh-round selection from Arkansas, has a bigger leg, especially on kickoffs.

"He's everything we expected," Gruden said of Hocker who kicked well this spring. "He (was) a very good college kicker. The rookie kickers in the NFL, not many of them have had a lot of success but we have high hopes for him. He's going to come in here and compete. We have a good field-goal kicker here, but the ability he has with that strong leg is an added dimension. Touchbacks are very, very important."

Here is a snapshot of the Redskins lineup heading into training camp:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Robert Griffin III. Backups - Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jordan Reed. Backups - Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul, Ted Bolser.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson. Backups - Andre Roberts, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson, Nick Williams, Ryan Grant, Cody Hoffman, Lee Doss, Rashard Lawrence, Rashad Ross, Jerry Rice, Jr.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Chris Chester, RT Tyler Polumbus. Backups - G-C Mike McGlynn, C Kevin Kowalski, G-T Maurice Hurt, T Tom Compton, G Josh LeRibeus, G Adam Gettis, T Morgan Moses, G Spencer Long, OL Tevita Stevens.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Jason Hatcher, NT Barry Cofield, DRE Chris Baker. Backups - DE Jarvis Jenkins, DE Stephen Bowen, DE Kedric Golston, NT Chris Neild, NT Clifton Geathers, DE Frank Kearse, DE Doug Worthington, NT Robert Thomas.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Ryan Kerrigan, LILB Keenan Robinson, RILB Perry Riley, ROLB Brian Orakpo. Backups - OLB Trent Murphy, OLB Rob Jackson, ILB Akeem Jordan, ILB Darryl Sharpton, OLB Brandon Jenkins, ILB Adam Hayward, OLB Adrian Robinson, OLB Gabe Miller, ILB Will Compton, ILB Jeremy Kimbrough.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB DeAngelo Hall, RCB David Amerson, SS Ryan Clark, FS Brandon Meriweather. Backups - CB E.J. Biggers, CB Tracy Porter, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Phillip Thomas, CB Richard Crawford, S Trenton Robinson, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Chase Minnifield, CB Peyton Thompson, S Akeem Davis, CB Bryan Shepherd, S Ross Madison, CB Courtney Bridget.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kai Forbath, P Robert Malone, LS Nick Sundberg, KOR Paul, PR Crawford, K Zach Hocker, P Blake Clingan, LS Kyle Nelson, KOR/PR Roberts, C. Thompson, Moss, D. Jackson, N. Williams, Helu.

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Draft time:
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