NFL Training Camp Snapshot 2013: Washington Redskins
With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.
The 2012 season looked to be headed toward another disappointing finish for the Redskins. After four straight years without a playoff berth, Washington stumbled out of the gate, despite some electrifying performances from Robert Griffin III and the shocking emergence of RB Alfred Morris. When they hit their bye in Week 10, the Redskins were tied with Philadelphia for last in the NFC East, 2.5 games behind the Giants.
And then, magic. Washington waxed those same Eagles in Week 10, then turned around and scored a Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas. When the dust had settled, the Redskins stood atop the division and headed for a home playoff date with Seattle.
All the good feelings vanished again there. Seattle ended Washington's season, 24-14, and Griffin blew out his knee on the shoddy FedEx Field turf.
Can the Redskins rediscover their second-half form again in 2013? Or will they struggle to repeat as NFC East champs?
• Biggest storyline: RG Knee.
Not only is Robert Griffin III's return from the torn ACL and torn LCL he suffered in the 2012 playoffs the Redskins' most important camp situation, it may be the biggest developing story in all the NFL right now.
With a healthy Griffin at quarterback, Washington could be a very dangerous team again in the NFC. Should he miss any time during the regular season, the Redskins are much less intimidating (despite how high many people are on backup Kirk Cousins).
Fortunately for them, all signs are pointing toward Griffin being ready in time for Week 1, if not before. He's easing his way back into practice, with the coaching staff taking extra care not to rush him in any way. And just like Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson, Griffin appears to be healing at a near-superhuman rate, even as Peterson has cautioned against comparing the two situations.
Given that the Redskins return the same starting lineup on offense that they had in 2012 (including TE Fred Davis, who played only seven games before suffering his own injury), there is no need to accelerate Griffin's timetable so he can learn the scheme or become familiar with his weapons on offense. So, Washington can take extra care with its star, in hopes that Griffin can get through the entire 2013 season unscathed.
• Most intriguing positional battle: Safety.
Washington had the league's 30th-ranked pass defense last season, so it is no secret that the play in the secondary must improve. Enter rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, who are expected to compete for a starting job at safety.
Their competition comes from Reed Doughty, a 21-game starter over the past two seasons; and Brandon Meriweather, who missed Washington's first nine games in 2012, then returned for Week 10 only to tear his ACL.
Meriweather is currently penciled in as the starting strong safety and Rambo actually opened camp as the No. 1 free safety, despite being taken two rounds later than Thomas in this year's draft. Thomas has been pegged as Meriweather's backup, thus far.
Consider this race wide open, though, especially if anyone in the group steps up with a noticeable preseason.
• New face, new place: E.J. Biggers, cornerback.
There was very little turnover on the Redskins' roster this offseason. With OLB Brian Orakpo, Davis and Meriweather back from season-ending injuries, the only difference in Washington's current projected starting lineup from its 2012 Week 1 version is that safety Madieu Williams is no longer around.
But in Biggers, the Redskins found an absolute bargain on the free-agent market. They signed the ex-Buc to a one-year, $1.5 million contract this offseason -- the latter number a very important one for a team handcuffed by NFL-imposed cap penalties. Biggers was arguably the best corner in a miserable Tampa Bay secondary last season, too, so Washington should benefit from his presence.
He may open the season as the Redskins' nickel corner, with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson back to claim their starting roles outside. Biggers should be an upgrade there, over the likes of Cedric Griffin and Richard Crawford. His toughest competition, in fact, may eventually come from second-round draft pick David Amerson.
• Impact rookie: Bacarri Rambo, safety.
Not a lot of players to choose from here, as the Redskins did not have a first-round draft pick and, as mentioned above, have minimal open starting jobs. Rambo, however, quickly has gained the inside track on a starting spot. There are reasons he slipped all the way to Round 6 in the draft (including some off-field shenanigans), but he had 16 interceptions during his college career.
An injection of youth and a little swagger at the safety spot certainly should help the Redskins, given the subpar performances they received there last season. Williams, who started every game in 2012, graded out as the fourth-worst defender on the team in Pro Football Focus' metrics.
Washington opted to let Williams walk this offseason, before doubling down on the safety spot in the draft. Rambo will have to work through some rookie moments, particularly if he has not improved as a tackler since college. The Redskins would trade some moments of frustration for a few of those turnover-creating plays Rambo delivered at Georgia.
• Looking at the schedule: The road to a second straight division title is littered with possible potholes. On top of the usual home-and-homes with their NFC East rivals, the Redskins must travel to Green Bay, Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta -- 2012 playoff teams, all. They'll also have to deal with the 49ers and Bears, among others, at home.
So, getting back to the 10-win mark and the top of the division again will not be easy. Washington also cannot afford to start 2013 as it did 2012. The Redskins were 3-6 headed into their bye last year, before rolling off seven straight wins (including four by seven points or fewer).
By Griffin's presence alone this is a playoff contender. Washington still will need a better showing out of its defense and a faster burst from the gate to return to the postseason.