WHAT I LIKE
TB Clinton Portis came back like gangbusters this offseason. He's quicker than he's been in years and has real burst allowing him to get past the line of scrimmage and into the secondary. It's hard to attribute this to anything other than the arrival of Mike Shanahan and his intolerance for highly-paid players who don't like working out during the offseason. Portis looks ready to have a big year if his blockers stay healthy and it makes you wonder what he could have done the past five years if he'd stayed in shape instead of loafing from February to August every year.
TB Larry Johnson looks about as good as Portis does, to be honest. I'm very surprised by this. Johnson certainly looks the part of a stud running back, but he was bitten by the 370-carry curse and hasn't looked like a star since 2006. I still don't think he's a star, but if his carries are limited in a backfield he shares with Clinton Portis, I think Johnson can still be a very effective running back.
Both TB Ryan Torain and TB Keiland Williams look like keepers to me. We need to see these guys in preseason and kick coverage, but Torain really hits the hole hard and looks NFL-ready right now. Wiliams hasn't gotten as many reps as Torain -- evidence the coaches think Torain is a bit further along right now -- but the LSU product seems to be pretty good at everything he does. Mike Shanahan has a knack for developing good running backs from modest clay and it looks like he may have done it again.
LT Trent Williams came out of college with a reputation as an incredibly athletic big man who took plays off, didn't study and wouldn't work hard. That's why I wanted the Redskins to draft Russell Okung, not quite the athlete Williams is but universally praised for his hard work and dedication to success. Williams has been a revelation. He already looks like the best lineman on the team and the coaching staff has thrown everything at him, especially an extra helping of SLB Brian Orakpo. More than one player told me Williams has "the feet of a tight end" and it is easy to see why when he races ahead of a play, keeping pace with Orakpo, Lorenzo Alexander or Andre Carter. He still has some technique work to do, but so far Williams has been a very pleasant surprise.
I'm a fan of WR/PR Brandon Banks. He's about 5'6" and 170 pounds, so playing from scrimmage will be a stretch this year, but he's amazingly quick [once timed at 4.25 in the 40] and has the kind of feet that allow him to start, stop and change direction in one effortless motion. As a punt returner he'll either excel or get killed. The problem is that Mike Shanahan insists that his receivers be able to block [that's a major reason his running backs break so many big runs] and I don't see Banks pancaking a lot of cornerbacks.
WR Roydell Williams will never be a special wideout, but he could be a very serviceable one for the Redskins. He hasn't played in two years because of injuries, but he looks like a nice #3 wideout or a decent #2. He runs precise routes and is really working hard to get back into the NFL.
WR/KR Terrence Austin is another smurf like Brandon Banks. He's a bit bigger than Banks [not much] and not as fast or quick, but he's got a pretty good work ethic and I like his potential on special teams. If Austin can make it as a kick returner and gunner on coverage units, I like his chances. Otherwise, he's gone. Like Banks, Austin catches everything thrown at him.
The tight ends should do very well in this offense. Shannon Sharpe is a Hall of Famer because of his production in the Mike Shanahan offense and Owen Daniels was on his way to a big Pro Bowl season last year for Kyle Shanahan before he got hurt. I think Chris Cooley should have a big year this season, even though he's been a bit inconsistent in camp. I'm especially excited about Fred Davis, who could lead the team in receptions and touchdowns. I love the way he gets open downfield between the hash marks and I think he's going to be an absolute demon in the red zone.
I was a bit concerned about how ILB London Fletcher would adjust to a 3-4 defense. I should have known better. He looks fine out there and is still the unquestioned coach of the defense on the field.
I like OLB Lorenzo Alexander against the run -- a lot. He's got great strength for the position and can run to the hole quickly. He's a real handful for blockers to take on. I don't see Alexander getting a lot of sacks this year, but he's going to be very useful on first and second downs.
I like OLB Andre Carter rushing the passer in this defense and think he could get at least as many sacks as he did last year.
Don't be shocked if OLB Brian Orakpo sacks the quarterback 15-18 times this year. The Redskins have him rushing the passer a lot and he's very, very good at it. Offenses should try to get him into coverage again, because that is still not, and never will be, his strong suit.
I think CB Carlos Rogers could have a very nice year in the Jim Haslett defense, which is geared towards using his size and strength, something Greg Blache and Gregg Williams did not do.
I'd be shocked if Kareem Moore does not win the free safety starting job. He looks quicker and tougher than any of his competition and the only safety who seems to know what he's doing as much or more than Kareem is Reed Doughty, who is always where he is supposed to be.
CB Kevin Barnes is slowly figuring out how to play cornerback at this level. I'm not sure what his role will be this season, but his mind may be catching up to his splendid NFL physique.
DL Albert Haynesworth will have no problem being a very productive part of the defensive line, once he figures out what he is supposed to do on every play. He's clearly the most physically-gifted of the lineman [by far] and should be a real handful at defensive end on first and second down. On third down, his ability to collapse the pocket despite being faced with two blockers should enable pass-rushers like Orakpo, Carter and Chris Wilson to do some real damage. I also like safety and cornerback blitzes with Haynesworth at nose tackle in passing situations.
PK Graham Gano has great leg strength and can definitely hit a 60-yard field goal. The question is, as it is with all young kickers, whether or not he will be consistent and handle pressure situations well. [See Suisham, Shaun.] Kickers tend to knock around the league for a few years before finding their place because of consistency issues, but the coaching staff showed real confidence in him by not bringing in a lot of competition this year. He looks very good in training camp and if that continues into real games, the Redskins have a keeper.
There have been very few injuries so far in training camp. That's a very good thing for a team that can ill-afford them, particularly at quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE
None of the quarterbacks look great right now. I'm not worried about Donovan McNabb because a lot of veterans his age don't work too hard in training camp and because he's typically better in the wide-open, improvisational game situations than in practice. John Beck looks promising and is working hard to learn the playbook, but his delivery is too side-armed. If the coaching staff can get his delivery straightened out, he could be a nice player in a year or two. Right now, though, he's a 3rd-stringer. Richard Bartel looks the part of a quarterback, but he's not terribly accurate or mobile. Rex Grossman, penciled in as the first backup because of his prior relationship with Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, often looks terrible to me. He's never been an accurate passer [career completion percentageof 52 percent] and that hasn't changed in a Redskins uniform. He's more likely to throw an interception than a touchdown and sometimes his passes wobble. He's streaky and can look good in spurts, but if Donovan McNabb misses substantial time during the regular season, the Redskins are in a lot of trouble.
The Redskins have very little depth on their offensive line, a problem that demolished the team last season. OG/T Mike Williams was lost for the season or longer with blood clots near his heart and RT Jammal Brown is still struggling with a nagging hip injury that forced him to miss all of the 2009 season. So far the backups have not really impressed me much, many of them are failed leftovers from the previous regime. If the offensive line stays healthy, the Redskins offense should be in good shape. If it does not stay healthy, Donovan McNabb probably won't stay healthy either.
I foresee problems for OLB Andre Carter in pass coverage, though, as he looks very stiff when dropping back. Like Orakpo, Carter is much better playing forward.
I'm wondering why TB Willie Parker was signed at all. He gets fewer reps than Portis, Johnson or Torain and looks no better than the 5th-best tailback on the team. The careers of running backs are known to come to an end very quickly and it looks as if that might have happened to "Formerly Fast" Willie Parker.
I don't see a true #2 wide receiver on this team, unless it's Santana Moss, who is supposed to be the #1 wide receiver. Roydell Williams is playing well, but he still looks like a #3 on a good team. Devin Thomas continues to be inconsistent, though he's shown flashes. Malcolm Kelly has missed 12 straight practices [as of this writing] and my most enduring image of Kelly from this training camp is him riding a bike on the sidelines during practice. Bobby Wade looks a lot like Roydell Williams so far and the others are mostly not ready [Banks, Austin] or injured [Mike Furrey]. Donovan McNabb is accustomed to working with less-than-stellar wideouts [only Terrell Owens and Desean Jackson have been truly special], but this offense won't reach its potential until it can put more than one good wide receiver on the field.