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2017 Redskins Position Battles: Offense

Posted Jul 24, 2017

With training camp set to begin later this week, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda looks at some of the top position battles to watch on the offensive side of the football while the team is in Richmond.

With training camp set to begin later this week, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda looks at some of the top position battles to watch on the offensive side of the football while the team is in Richmond.

In just three days, the Washington Redskins will open up 2017 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., with plenty of position battles that will have to be resolved.

Here are some of the competitions on the offensive side of the football that will be highlighted in the coming weeks:

Running Back
The Redskins’ coaching staff made it clear this offseason that Robert Kelley has earned the right to open up training camp as the team’s No. 1 running back.

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden joked recently that Kelley was the “ninth-string running back” going into training camp. While that was a bit of a stretch, the undrafted Tulane product did start his time in Washington buried on the depth chart before first securing a spot on the active roster and then earning the starting running back role for the final nine games.

In total, Kelley would finish his rookie season totaling 704 yards and six touchdowns.

“It’s exciting to see how far he’s come in a short period of time,” Gruden said. “With that experience comes confidence and I think he’s more confident with every rep that he takes, with every path, with every course that he takes at running back, with his protections, with his routes. You become more comfortable at the running back position when you’re not thinking about, ‘Right foot back, left foot stutter step, drop step,’ all of that stuff. ‘Am I aiming at the outside leg of the tackle, inside leg of the tight end? Where am I going?’

“Now it’s just natural to him. He can be a runner and he’s very gifted in that regard as far as finding holes and running through people.”

While Kelley will open up camp as the No. 1 back, the team has high hopes for Samaje Perine, Oklahoma’s all-time leading rusher who was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said the team will ride the “hot hand” at running back, and at times that could mean that Perine is the man getting his number called in the backfield. Gruden echoed that stance.

“If you are dressed on game day, one of the three that is dress, you’re going to get carries,” Gruden said. “Whether it’s 18 for Fat Rob and 15 for Perine and five for Chris [Thompson], however it pans out. They will compete and there is always going to be competition here that’s never going to change.”

Washington also has Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Keith Marshall and Mack Brown on the 90-man roster. Jones, of course, begin the 2016 campaign as the team’s starting running back before injuries and inconsistent play rendered him inactive during the second half of the year. If he can have a strong training camp showing, Jones could have a role once again on gamedays this fall.

“It’s all competition,” Gruden said. “Guys who make plays and guys who are productive are guys that I like to play. It’s no secret. I’m just telling you it’s going to be hard to move a guy who has been here working very hard and done such a good job.”

Wide Receiver
While it appears Washington’s top trio of wideouts is set in the form of Josh Doctson, Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder, one of the more interesting camp battles to watch will be which young receivers claim other spots on the active roster.

Returning from the active roster last year are Ryan Grant, the longest tenured wide receiver on the roster entering his fourth season, and Maurice Harris.

While Grant only managed nine catches for 76 yards in 16 games last year, the coaching staff is optimistic he can finally break through with more opportunities.

“I think when Ryan had to come in here …and play behind a guy like DeSean [Jackson] and Pierre [Garçon] and have to earn his keep as a blocking receiver, he had to find a way to play special teams,” said wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard. “He put on weight, you know, he got stronger, he did all the things that everybody asked him to do and then hopefully now it’s just time to go out and show that he can actually play football.”

Harris, meanwhile, started the season on the practice squad before being called up to the active roster after Doctson was placed on Injured Reserve. In 10 games, the Greensboro, N.C., native collected eight catches for 66 yards.

Like Harris, 2016 practice squad members Matt Hazel and Kendal Thompson will be looking to stand out during training camp with the hopes of claiming active roster spots.

New to the roster this year is veteran Brian Quick along with rookies Robert Davis, Levern Jacobs, Zach Pascal and James Quick.

“We have a number of receivers that are battling,” Gruden said. “If we played tomorrow, we could only dress five, it would be a really, really hard decision right now. So special teams will become part of that obviously but we have got great options right now and it’s a matter of keeping them healthy and giving them all opportunities from now until the fourth preseason game after training camp and seeing who the best ones are, who makes the most plays.”

Tight End
Washington returns it’s incredibly productive duo of Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis at the top of the tight end depth chart. Niles Paul and Derek Carrier, meanwhile, hope to return from seasons limited by injuries.

Paul appeared in eight games last season, primarily as a special teamer, before suffering a shoulder injury in October. Carrier, meanwhile, appeared in the final eight games following his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL and recorded two receptions for 10 yards.  

The Redskins also drafted Jeremy Sprinkle in the fifth round out of Arkansas and signed Manasseh Garner in May.

While Sprinkle is Arkansas’ all-time leader among tight ends in receiving, he fits the blocking tight end role Washington was looking for in the NFL Draft.

“That’s very rare nowadays in college football,” Gruden said. “A lot of tight ends are athletic, can run, but when you ask them to put their hand on the ground and block that six-technique, it’s a whole different ballgame. We feel like Jeremy can do a little bit of both. And he’s still got to develop his upper body, but I think we get him in our building, get him in the weight room… He’s got the length, he’s got the size, he’s got the toughness. I think he’s a good pick.”

Cutdown decisions for this group will be tough, as they were last year when the team released veteran Logan Paulsen.

“This is the best group in the league if you ask me,” said tight ends coach Wes Phillips. “I mean, I don’t know them all obviously to a man, but I feel like the luckiest tight end coach in the league for sure.”

Offensive Line
Washington returns all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago, as Trent Williams and Morgan Moses protect Kirk Cousins on the outside with Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff and Spencer Long providing stout production in the middle of the trenches.

While Long transitioned well from guard to center seamlessly, there will be competition for the backup center position.

Sixth-round pick Chase Roullier and Ronald Patrick are among the candidates to earn that spot, but Washington will have a few other options as well.

“The players are cross-trained,” said assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan. “So for instance, all of the guards that we have in our system, they’re all cross-trained as centers. So, there’s going to be a point in time where they’re going to get practice whether it’s in post-practice, pre-practice with the center-quarterback exchange or even in a tight-inside team drill where we’re focusing on the running game, so they’re all going to get thrown into the fray.

“Secondly, they need to be developed with crossover roles because of the active [rules] that you have up on a game day. So if you’re getting seven guys up, they have to have some versatility to swing from a right guard to a center, play like Spencer did in the Giant game [last year] when he was playing guard and then Lauvao went out, then [Kory] Lichtensteiger went out and we ended up moving Trent to guard and Spencer to center. So, there’s a lot of juggling going on and those guys handled it great, let me tell you.”

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