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Redskins Upload: Competition Key To Offense

Posted May 22, 2012

As OTA's kick off this week, here is an early look at the biggest roster battles on offense, and why the biggest winners should end up being the Redskins.


Monday was the first time this spring that Redskins’ rookies and veterans took the field together, as the team held the first round of organized team activities (OTAs) at Redskins Park.

This week is the first time Redskins coaches have an opportunity to physically evaluate most of the 90-man offseason roster, compiled over the past few months.

It also marked the first time the 90 players got a chance to see who they will be competing with for a spot on the team’s final 53-man roster.

Since the end of last season, head coach Mike Shanahan has vehemently expressed the importance of adding “quality depth” at every position on his football team.  He has also stressed the significance of assembling the right mixture of players to be successful in the NFL.

After aggressively adding players through free agency and the draft, Shanahan seems satisfied with where the team stands, getting younger, deeper, breeding competition. 

“We want to get deeper.  We want to get better,” Shanahan said.  “But it’s a good nucleus of players that we have right now, to win.”

Here’s a breakdown of the roster competitions on offense, as they currently stand:

The Redskins’ offense was not as sound as the defense was last season.  The unit scored an average of 18 points per game, which ranked 26th in the NFL. 

Part of that can be attributed to Washington’s offensive line, which was decimated by injury for much of the year, and struggled to gain cohesiveness.

Consequently, coach Shanahan and his staff have assembled a diverse group of seasoned veterans and hungry youngsters who will vie for a roster spot and position on the offense’s depth chart.

In addition to getting Jammal Brown and Kory Lichtensteiger back healthy, the team also grabbed a trio of offensive linemen in the draft, led by guard Josh LeRibeus with the 71st overall pick.

LeRibeus (6-2, 312) played collegiately at Southern Methodist, and is acknowledged for his toughness and scrappiness.  He can play any spot along the interior line.

The best camp competitions should revolve around the skill positions of wide receiver, tight end and running back, where there are a lot of new faces. 

Shanahan couldn’t be more thrilled about the level of competition that is expected to transpire at these three positions over the next few months.  He’s also excited about being able to surround his franchise quarterback with playmakers.

The only difficult aspect will be the roster decisions the team has to make before Week 1.

At receiver, soon-to-be 33-year-old Santana Moss has dropped 15 pounds during the offseason and he looked noticeably leaner and rejuvenated at the Redskins’ first OTA session on Monday.

After the team’s first full-squad workout, Moss said, “I just want to get back to what I do.  I know the last three or four years I played a little heavier than I had been.  I still played at a high level, but when I critiqued myself I could tell there were certain things that I wasn’t doing.  I just want to get back to that.”

Moss has started every game that he has played as a member of the Redskins (104 games).  The two-time All-Pro has also recorded three 1,000-plus receiving yards in a season, highlighted by his 2005 campaign in which he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards, setting a new franchise single-season receiving record.

An offensive co-captain a year ago, Moss was hampered by a mid-season hand injury,  and couldn’t produce the numbers that he has grown accustomed to.  The 12-year pro owns the fourth-most receptions (488) and receiving yards (6,726) in Redskins history, and he wants to prove that he can still produce at a high level.

Moss will share the deep passes with newly-acquired receiver Pierre Garcon.  The Redskins signed Garcon away from the Colts in free agency, after registering his most productive season as a pro.

The 25-year-old started all 16 games last year and recorded 70 receptions, 947 receiving yards and six touchdowns.  His best performance of the season came in Week 13, when he had nine receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns at New England.

Garcon (6-0, 210) has carved a niche as a deep threat and has produced 29 catches for 20 or more yards and 118 career first downs.  Griffin III connected deep with Garcon several times during seven-on-seven drills on Monday, and coaches are hopeful that the two will take that chemistry into the upcoming season.

Griffin III will also have Washingtonian Josh Morgan at his disposal this season, after he signed a long-term deal with the Redskins in March.  Previously, Morgan spent four seasons in San Francisco, where he earned 32 starts.

Morgan (6-1, 215) runs precise routs and has good speed, size and hands, which should allow the offense to go deep.  It doesn’t hurt that Morgan will be playing in front of his hometown crowd.

After his first OTA workout with the team he grew up rooting for, Morgan said, “It’s a lot of excitement and a lot of pressure, but it’s all a blessing.  I’m going to keep taking everything in stride and I’m going to do what I have to do to help this team win.”

Morgan will likely compete for time with Leonard Hankerson, who showed promise before his rookie season was abruptly cut short by a right hip injury. 

The 23-year-old showed potential against Miami in Week 10, when he posted career highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (106) in that game, while becoming the first Redskins rookie wide receiver to post 100 receiving yards in a game, in a decade.

Throw in the familiar faces of Anthony Armstrong, Terrance Austin, Brandon Banks and Aldrick Robinson and four rookie wideouts, competition should be intense.

Similarly, tight end has some intrigue. 

With the return of a motivated Fred Davis and healthy Chris Cooley, the Redskins have arguably the best tight end duo in the conference.  The intrigue is in how Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen, Richard Quinn and Beau Reliford figure into the mix.

Davis (6-4, 258) started 12 games and had a breakout season in 2011.  The athletic 26-year-old delivered the type of numbers that Redskins fans have been craving for from the tight end position.

Davis finished the season setting career highs in receptions and receiving yards with 59 receptions for 796 yards, including 39 first down catches.

“I’ve just got to focus every day on the little stuff, more technical stuff, run routes better,” Davis assessed Monday.  “That’s what I’m going to do.”

Cooley had an injury-plagued 2011 campaign that ended on injured reserve.  With just eight catches for 65 yards, it was the nine-year veteran’s worst statistical season of his career. 

With that said, he’s still Chris Cooley and he’s healthy now.  Cooley has had arguably the most reliable set of hands for the Redskins over the past decade.  The 29-year-old became the Redskins’ all-time leader in receptions at the tight end position in Week 1 of last season, breaking the previous mark of 421 receptions set by Jerry Smith.

Cooley ran without braces or limitations at Monday’s workout.  He has slimmed down to 237 in order to stay healthy, the lightest of his career.  It is believed that Davis could win the starting job, but Cooley has something to prove.

“It’s very apparent Fred Davis had a great year,” Cooley said.  “And for me to contribute the way I would like to contribute, I have a big challenge ahead of me in proving that I’m still the player I think I can be and I’m still the player that I was. 

“That’s something I’m honestly excited about.”

Out of the four young guys who will most likely vie for the third tight end spot, Niles Paul is clearly the most intriguing.  Paul is a physical converted wide receiver with undeniable explosiveness.

Chosen as a wide receiver in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, no one has ever questioned Paul’s ability to catch the ball.  But the second-year player showed tremendous grit in blocking last season, and his physical play on special teams last season suggested he was capable of making the transition.

A suspect position one year ago, the running back competition should be fun to watch in 2012.  With the three-headed monster of Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster, the Redskins have three backs that could split or carry the load any given Sunday.

Hightower (6-0, 222) tallied 321 rushing yards on 84 carries with one touchdown, and added 78 receiving yards on 10 receptions and a scoring catch through the first six games last season.

The fifth-year back was particularly effective in the passing game, whether receiving or in pass-protection.  In Week 7, however, Hightower tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the season, opening the door for Roy Helu to prove that he was an NFL-caliber back.

In his first career start, Helu broke the Redskins’ all-time record for receptions in a game with 14 catches.  In Weeks 12-14, the multi-purpose back posted three straight 100-yard rushing games.

The 23-year-old completed his rookie campaign with 640 rushing yards on 151 carries with one touchdown, and had 379 yards on 49 receptions and a touchdown.  Helu was the team’s rushing leader a season ago and was named to the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team.

Royster, a sixth-round draft choice in 2011, was called up from the practice squad in Week 12 and was very active the final six games of the season.  He flashed tremendous promise in the last two weeks of the season, posting consecutive 100-yard games.

Hightower expects strong competition for snaps in 2012, but doesn’t feel threatened by the duo’s rookie success.

“To see them get their opportunities was great,” he said.  “I was their biggest cheerleader.  Now, the competitor in me does feel a little bit of that fire and that motivation. You always aim to be the starter, and I do, just like they do.”

Hightower, Helu and Royster won’t be the only guys lining up in the Redskins’ backfield during training camp and preseason. 

First-year player Tristan Davis (5-10, 212), and sixth-round pick Alfred Morris looked strong during the first day of OTAs and throughout rookie mini-camp.

We’re still months away from the regular season, but Shanahan finds himself in an advantageous position on offense.  He will have some tough choices to make at key positions, but has an abundance of talent to choose from. 

Guys are going to have to step up and contend during training camp and preseason, and that should be fun to watch by Redskins coaches and fans alike.