What to expect: Redskins position battles

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
8:20
AM ET
The Washington Redskins don't have a lot of starting jobs up for grabs, an unusual occurrence for a team coming off a 3-13 season. At some spots, such as the defensive line, health will dictate who emerges (which is why that area isn't discussed). Here's a quick look at some battles for starting jobs (not all of which are truly in question):

Right guard: Chris Chester is the incumbent, and I’d still anticipate him being the starter when the season opens. How open is this job? Not sure it’s as open as you think. Though they really like Spencer Long, he still has a lot to learn, not just in learning the offense but in recognizing defenses and what to anticipate. And though Josh LeRibeus is coming off a solid offseason, he needs to prove himself on the field and earn the head coach’s trust. It wouldn’t stun me if one of these two eventually wins the job -- both are/were third-round picks for a reason. But going into camp, this job is Chester’s.

Right tackle: I just don't see Tyler Polumbus losing this one; rookie Morgan Moses is just not ready. He improved at staying low during the spring, but it was still an issue, and there's no reason to rush him into a starting job if that's the case. He also has to show he can get to linebackers in the outside zone game, something he was inconsistent with in college. The coaches like third-year player Tom Compton, but enough to win the starting job? That would be a stretch. It might be hard for the Redskins to keep four tackles, especially if they keep fewer than 10 linemen. Still, Jay Gruden singled out Compton for his performance in the spring. Meanwhile, Polumbus is not perfect, but the question is as much about what's behind him as his own level of play.

Inside linebacker: The Redskins inserted Keenan Robinson with the starters when the spring workouts started, and that’s where he’ll be when camp opens. They love his ability to cover the entire field, which helps not only in the pass game but against more wide-open schemes (such as Philadelphia). Robinson has to prove he’s not just a third-down linebacker.

In the past, the Redskins have valued the inside linebackers’ play against the run more than against the pass. That’s how it should be: If they can’t stop the run, they’ll always be in bad situations. So the big test for Robinson is handling that role. But if he’s able to play to his speed against the run, it would help tremendously. They do have fallback options with veterans Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. Neither of them offer Robinson’s coverage ability, although Sharpton at least stayed on the field in third-down situations for Houston last season. Jordan was a two-down guy.

Punter: Not exactly an exciting battle, but it will be an important one. The choices aren’t fantastic: a veteran who has struggled with consistency, or a first-year player with zero career punts in the NFL. Robert Malone has to have an edge entering camp because he at least has 157 career punts. Though his career 44.5-yard average is good, his 37.8-yard net average is not. And after watching some of his punts last season, the reason for that drop-off included his penchant for line-drive kicks and low hang time. This spring, he had some booming punts with terrific hang time. After four years, will he cut down on the short, returnable punts? But Blake Clingan hasn’t punted in a regular-season game since he was a senior at Central Florida in 2010. It’s good that Washington improved its talent in coverage.

Kicker: When the Redskins drafted Zach Hocker in the seventh round, it was a surprising move. But if their intent is to improve all aspects of special teams, perhaps it wasn’t. Hocker, in college at least, was far better than incumbent Kai Forbath on kickoffs. Last season, Forbath had only 14 touchbacks in 13 games. In the three games he missed, Washington kicked off 12 times and recorded eight touchbacks. In that stretch, the opposition started one drive outside the 20 after a kickoff (excluding one onside kick). The defense allowed 20 points off those 12 drives (though five drives, and no points, came against Oakland). Overall, the Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL in opposition average starting position after a kickoff (the 24-yard line).

The Redskins emphasized improving coverage this offseason, so this clearly will be an important aspect. But would they really hand the job to a rookie who has never kicked in an NFL game? Hocker looked good this spring when using the narrow goalposts in practice, but we’ll see how he handles the job under game pressure. That matters a lot more. Would they really keep a kickoff specialist? That’s fine if you say yes, but then where do you cut? It’s not a great option, but if they’re intent on improving special teams, it is one they’ll consider.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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