The 2018 NFL season kicks off in just over six weeks. That means that the Washington Redskins are about to embark on a new era beginning with training camp. Here are a few things to watch out for as training camp commences.
A New Era
For the first time in a number of years, there is solidity at quarterback. The storyline of the past few seasons was whether or not quarterback Kirk Cousins would re-sign in the nation’s capital after receiving the franchise tag. Cousins is in Minnesota now and the drama is finally over. The Redskins traded for Alex Smith and signed him to a long-term contract. Getting a franchise quarterback came at a steep price though as Washington sent Kendall Fuller, one of their most promising young players, to the Chiefs.
Washington got a bit older at quarterback with Smith entering this season at 34 years old, but they also got better. NFL.com with the help of Next Gen Stats (which uses chips in every player’s shoulder pads to track players) ranked Smith as the fourth best tight window thrower in the NFL. A tight window means that a receiver has less than a yard of separation from a defender. Smith throws into tight windows only 12.7 percent of the time, but when he does he delivers.
Alex Smith even at 34 is a more athletic and talented runner than Kirk Cousins. Smith ran for 355 yards last season and averaged 5.9 yards a carry. Washington saw it firsthand as Smith ran seven times for 56 yards and a touchdown against them last season. Smith also ran for 19 first downs last season. Smith like Cousins is durable and has not missed more than one game in a season since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
And perhaps most importantly Smith avoids interceptions and wins games. The last time Smith threw more than eight interceptions in a season was in 2010 when he threw 10 interceptions with the San Francisco 49ers. Smith is also a better ball handler only fumbling the ball twice last season. Cousins had 13 fumbles.
Smith is a defensive coordinator’s best friend because he avoids putting them in precarious situations. The former Utah Ute is also a winner. Smith has a record of 88-62-1 as a starter and has a winning record in each of his last seven seasons a starter with two different franchises. That means that the average record of his team was 11-5.
Smith played for a great franchise with great players and coaching but he was an invaluable part of the Chiefs success. Washington got better at quarterback and they will get a taste of it at training camp.
Washington may be a bit older at quarterback but they also have a lot of talented young players. The Redskins defensive line is much better thanks to back-to-back first-round selections of defensive lineman. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne, teammates at Alabama, will help anchor the Redskins defensive line. Last season Washington gave up an NFL worst 134 yards on the ground. Losing Allen early in the year certainly did not help. This seasons Washington should be much better with a healthy Allen returning and the addition of his college teammate Payne.
The Redskins have struggled at running back since Alfred Morris left town. Morris ran for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons from 2012-2014. The last true star running back in D.C. though was Clinton Portis who retired after the 2010 season. That may change this season with the addition of LSU phenom Derrius Guice. Guice fell to the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft in large part due to concerns over his character. Those close to him though denied the reports. It turns out that they were right. Guice raised $19,000 for cancer according to Redskins.com. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite and even had a movie night with some fans.
— 2️⃣9️⃣ (@DhaSickest) May 22, 2018
He is an electrifying running back with a great combination of speed, power, and balance. He has the physicality to finish off runs like he did against Louisville in 2016.
Derrius Guice trucks the Louisville kicker. (2016) pic.twitter.com/X1MHxn3nQS
— LSU Greatest Moments (@lsu_moments) January 3, 2017
Add in Chris Thompson who was looking like a Pro Bowl player for the Redskins last season before his season-ending injury and Washington has a great tandem at running back. Some experts think that the tandem could repeat what Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram did with the Saints last season.
"Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson together could be what Kamara and Ingram are in New Orleans." 👀@heykayadams thinks the RB duo of @DhaSickest and @ChrisThompson_4 could make a huge impact for the @Redskins this season. pic.twitter.com/dBV7OkxIWW
— GMFB (@gmfb) July 24, 2018
Washington has a plethora of young talent. Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith, Matt Ioannidis, Montae Nicholson, Chase Roullier and Josh Doctson are all 25 years old or younger. Add in Allen, Payne, and Guice and you have a pretty special group of young players. The young talent will have a big impact on the Redskins success in 2018.
Few Position Battles
The Redskins, for the most part, have established starters across the roster. Cornerback is the position with the most question marks. Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland is still a free agent but is expected to sign elsewhere. Nickel corner Kendall Fuller is now with the Chiefs via the trade for Alex Smith. Who will replace them?
Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar are the most likely candidates. Moreau is one to watch out for. Washington selected him in the third round last year. He likely would have been selected in the first round if not for a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered at his pro day. Moreau has the talent to become a starter in Washington for years to come. Dunbar is a collegiate wide receiver that was converted to cornerback with the Redskins. Dunbar has good size and range, but he is relatively inexperienced at cornerback. Washington added Orlando Scandrick in free agency. He is a likely candidate for the nickel corner position.
Josh Holsey, Adonis Alexander, and Greg Stroman provide depth at the position. Holsey and Stroman are seventh-round picks. Washington recently selected Alexander in the sixth round of the supplemental draft.
Washington has a lot of talent at cornerback but they also have a lot of question marks outside of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
Perhaps the only other battle for a starting position will be at running back. Guice is the heavy favorite to win the battle but he will have to beat out Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine for the starting gig. Washington also has Chris Thompson, but he is likely to be the third down and change of pace running back.
The 2018 season is rapidly approaching and there is plenty of room for optimism in Washington. Who knows after the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup triumph it feels like anything is possible. It has certainly inspired the Redskins.