The Washington Football Team training camp starts this week! The team will look to build off of last year’s positives and correct the negatives. Head Coach Ron Rivera went through an immense amount of adversity in his first season on the Washington sideline and he still managed to lead the team to a division title.
Rivera will be able to conduct an actual training camp with minimal restrictions allowing him to evaluate talent on the field, which is something he and his staff were not afforded the opportunity to do during last year’s training camp. This year’s camp is going to be very competitive and there are going to be some intense position battles on both sides of the football. There are 90 bodies that need to be cut down to 53 by the end of camp, so players need every chance they can get to apply on the field what they have learned in those meeting rooms.
Let’s take a look at a few offensive position battles and why they are ones to watch…
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (Left tackle/right tackle)
Offensive line has been one of the least discussed position battles. It’s not exactly exciting to discuss unless you’re somebody like me who values establishing physicality at the line of scrimmage and keeping the quarterback from getting hit often. The Washington offensive line played better than they were given credit for the second half of last season. They have the entire starting unit returning with the exception of last year’s starting right tackle Morgan Moses. The team also cut tackle Geron Christian. At left tackle, the team is expected to start Charles Leno Jr. who was cut by the Chicago Bears this offseason. Leno Jr, will have to compete with rookie Sam Cosmi, who was drafted this year by Washington in the second round. The team could possibly move last year’s starting left tackle Cornelius Lucas to right tackle to fill the void left by Morgan Moses’s departure. A wild card could be second year tackle Saadiq Charles who was expected to compete for the starting left tackle spot last year after being drafted in the fourth round. Charles was drafted as a tackle, but started one game at left guard, but was immediately injured, so what his role is, if any, will be interesting to watch. He could be anywhere from a starter to a cap casualty.
When opposing teams look at the Washington depth chart at wide receiver, nobody not named Terry McLaurin stands out. The team signed Curtis Samuel as a free agent from Carolina and Adam Humphries from Tennessee to add some speed and experience to the unit. 3rd year receiver Kelvin Harmon was expected to have a breakout season last year, but he missed the entire year on injured reserve. He returns with a lot to prove, but with a tremendous opportunity in front of him to convince the coaches he is the player many of them believe he is. In a similar situation is second year receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. Many, including myself, were very high on Gandy-Golden’s promise and the attributes he brought to the table as a rookie. Last year, lingering injuries and an inability to figure out his role kept him out of the game plan for all of his rookie season when he was hoped to be an instant contributor. In his defense, he had no off season and training camp, so his development as a player could have been slowed as a result. Cam Sims had some standout plays in 2020 and proved that he has the ability to be an NFL receiver and a valuable contributor. The problem is, he has “moments”, but disappears in games at times. The other Sims, Steven Sims Jr., had a disappointing 2020 which was expected to be a breakout season for him. In 2019, Sims Jr. showed the ability to make some big plays within the offense and also appeared to be a solid return specialist. The 2020 season was not nearly as kind to Sims Jr., and he can only hope that having a year under his belt in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offense will help generate better results. The team drafted Dyami Brown in the third round and Dax Milne in the seventh to come in and attempt to leapfrog some guys for roster spots and repetitions, and Sims Jr. could easily be one of those players. This wide receiver competition should be one of the more spirited ones because of how wide open the competition is. Most teams may have 2 to 3 open receiver slots available on the final roster at most, but on this team, no one should be safe not named Terry McLaurin. Keep an eye out because there could be some surprises brewing in this group on the final cut day.
Last year, Washington fans watched starting tight end Logan Thomas blossom into one of the premier tight ends in the league right before their eyes. Thomas is without a doubt the clear cut starter, but the issue last season was the drop off when he was unavailable to play. Neither of the tight ends on last year’s roster could come anywhere close to being able to do some of the things athletically and in the passing game Thomas could do. Coach Rivera clearly recognized this, because he is going into camp with 7 tight ends out of 90 camp roster spots. Rivera wants competition, and he wants tight ends that are big, and that can move. The team drafted John Bates in the fourth round of this year’s draft and signed a plethora of others to compete for what will most likely be those last two tight end slots. This will be another position battle to keep an eye on because it's anybody’s competition to win, and whoever does the most things well on the field will earn a spot.
Washington’s coaching staff has a lot of evaluating to do on offense. All last season, the offense was considered the weak link, and the label was warranted. Hopefully, there is enough talent that has been drafted and signed via free agency to improve on last year’s production, but beyond that, I want to see how much returning players from 2020 improve. That is going to speak volumes about the culture Rivera is building and the type of players he has brought in. If players aren’t getting better, and still making the same mistakes, at some point it becomes coaching, but if these guys are perfecting their craft and maximizing their ability, that means Rivera is bringing in players you can build around and create a healthy culture with. Now we just have to see if he and Scott Turner can filter out who are the best of the bunch. We shall see. As you were...