5 Training Camp Questions: Defense
1. Will a Rookie Step Up at Safety?
–Brandon Meriweather will hopefully handle one safety spot (see below), which leaves one safety spot to be handled by either 4th rounder Phillip Thomas or 6th rounder Bacarri Rambo. Rambo is the more natural free safety (the expected open position), but Thomas is probably the more complete safety. The Redskins prefer versatility among their safeties and Thomas was the higher draft pick, which could give him an edge, but Rambo shouldn’t be counted out of the mix. This figures to be one of the better camp battles to watch this year, not only to see who wins the battle, but to see what level of play they can bring to the table this season. Expectations should be tempered at this point, but a strong preseason could give hope to a strong season.
2. How Big of an Impact Will Brian Orakpo Have?
-The Redskins lost Brian Orakpo in week 2 of last season and their defense never really recovered. Their pass rush was down all season leading to fewer sacks and pressures. That led to more completions and more yards, helping to make the Redskins pass defense among the worst in the league. Orakpo has had plenty of time to recover and shouldn’t have any lingering effects from the surgery. With him back in the mix, teams will now have to pay less attention to guys like Ryan Kerrigan, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, which should open some things up for them. Pass rush alone won’t fix their pass defense issues, but it should play a significant role.
3. Will the Secondary Be Improved?
-Speaking of the pass defense, the real question is the development of the secondary. This off season the Redskins brought back starting corner DeAngelo Hall for a one year deal and signed corner E.J. Biggers to likely be the third corner. In the draft the Redskins grabbed CB David Amerson in the 2nd round, S Phillip Thomas in the 4th round and S Bacarri Rambo in the 6th round. The question is, did they do enough? Hall is coming off back-to-back really poor seasons and isn’t getting any younger. Biggers has shown some promise, but hasn’t been consistent and wasn’t a highly sought after free agent. Amerson is a boom or bust prospect who isn’t expected to contribute much as a rookie, while Thomas and Rambo figure to have some growing pains. Hall is expected to retain the starting job with Biggers as the 3rd corner and Amerson the primary back-up on the outside. The other projected starting corner Josh Wilson is coming off his worst season and it was revealed he played through injuries and needed a pair of offseason surgeries. At safety the rookies are joined by veteran Brandon Meriweather who is coming off a November ACL surgery. While there is far better depth with this group than a year ago, everyone has a question mark or two by their name this season. They should be better this year, but this preseason and camp will be an interesting test to see how much of an improvement it’s been.
4. What do the Redskins Do if Adam Carriker Isn’t Healthy?
-Adam Carriker who went down in week 2 last season has suffered setbacks from his injury and he isn’t expected to participate in camp or the preseason at all. He said he expects to be back by the regular season, but it is very possible he could have to go on the Reserve/PUP list or even IR. During OTA’s the Redskins lost his roster replacement from last season, DE Doug Worthington for the year. While Jarvis Jenkins is expected to start and Kedric Golston the primary back-up, the position currently looks pretty thin without Carriker. Given the nature of the position, the Redskins are likely to see one or two more serious injuries along the line, and their depth is already in question. Assuming Carriker is at least on the PUP list, the Redskins have to decide how many defensive linemen to carry, either the bare minimum 6 or add another body in case of further injuries. Golston and NT/DE Chris Baker figure to have two of the back-up spots, but the other one or two spots are completely up in the air. NT Chris Neild is in the mix after being a back-up in 2011 before suffering a preseason ACL injury a year ago. Former 2nd rounders (from other teams) NT Ron Brace and DE Phillip Merling are in the mix, but it is unclear what they can offer. The Redskins need to be prepared for further injuries this season, so these should be some interesting camp battles to fill out the roster.
5. How do other Returning Injured Players Look?
-Adam Carriker is currently the only key player who is questionable for the start of the season, but the Redskins have a number of returning injured players, including NT Chris Neild, OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB London Fletcher, CB Josh Wilson, S Brandon Meriweather. Now Neild and Orakpo were full participants in OTA’s and minicamp and have had the longest recovery times, so they aren’t a major concern. Fletcher missed some of OTA’s and just given his age may not be able to bounce back like he would have earlier in his career. He may be the most likely to see his play deteriorate due to these injuries. Wilson and Meriweather are much greater wildcards both are at risk for setbacks and possibly a drop off in production (particularly early in the season). How they look in camp/preseason will go a long way to determining if the Redskins have to be worried about any of these players for the season (or possibly have to play without them).