The Washington Times - January 16, 2013, 12:18PM

You know it’s the offseason when the sun barely has shone in a week and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper is hosting teleconferences. That was the case Wednesday morning.

It’s a strange feeling to reach this point on the calendar and not be asking questions about how the Redskins will solve their long-term quarterback problems. But here we are because of last year’s trade up to select Robert Griffin III, who earned a Pro Bowl nomination in his first season.

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Instead of quarterbacks, this year’s pre-draft storylines center around the Redskins’ needs in the secondary and possible upgrades to the offensive line, particularly right tackle.

That’s not quite as compelling, especially because the Redskins traded their 2013 first-round pick to St. Louis for the 2012 second-overall pick, which they used on Griffin. They don’t pick until the second round, 51st overall, so even the first-round luster is lost.

That’s not to say the Redskins’ second-round pick should be ignored. On the contrary. They should draft a starter at that spot.

In the secondary, strong safety Brandon Meriweather is coming off ACL reconstruction surgery. Free safety is an even greater unknown because Madieu Williams’ contract expires, and first-stringer Tanard Jackson remains suspended indefinitely. At right tackle, Tyler Polumbus’ contract expires; he started all 16 games.

With that in mind, Kiper on Wednesday morning offered us several names to watch as we begin the evaluation and research process that takes us up to the draft on April 25-27. Get your Google machine ready.

“The safety position, I think, is what they would look at,” Kiper said of Washington’s second-round pick. “When you think about that particular point in the draft, maybe Phillip Thomas from Fresno State is a very underrated player. Had a lot of productivity this year; was around the ball a lot; a lot of tackles; a lot of impact hits; good in coverage, as well. So I think Phillip Thomas from Fresno State when you think about the third or fourth-round area.

“I don’t think a Matt Elam from Florida or a Tony Jefferson from Oklahoma or an Eric Reid from LSU would get down that far to be a pick at that point. So if you’re looking for a guy that realistically could be available and has a chance to be a real good player, it would be Phillip Thomas from Fresno State.

“J.J. Wilcox is a kid out of Georgia Southern,” Kiper continued. “He’s going to the Senior Bowl. Nice player; versatile athlete; has played on both sides of the ball. But he emerged this year as a guy to keep an eye out for when you get into maybe the fourth- or fifth-round areas. Senior Bowl week next week will be important for him. Those are some of the guys beyond the elite that are going to go in the first couple rounds.”

As for right tackle, that position always is interesting in the draft because left tackles - the position that protects a right-handed quarterback’s blindside - generally are valued more. Teams in need of a right tackle, such as the Redskins, must decide how highly to draft a right tackle, and do they draft a left tackle and convert him to the right side, or go with a natural right tackle?

“I want to see, basically, who’s the first team to pull the trigger on those guys because they are good players,” Kiper said. “D.J. Fluker being the top guy coming out of Alabama, who, I thought, even in pass protection this year, did a heck of a job. That was the question mark with him. Incredibly long arms. Physical, tough player. I thought he held up a lot better in pass protection than people thought he would.

“Then you have [Florida St.’s] Menelik Watson, a kid who’s a great story. He came out of really nowhere to move up the draft board to the point where he could be a first-round pick. Huge kid. A physically imposing bookend with real good feet for a player his size.

“You’ve got Brennan Williams at North Carolina, a big kid, battled injury late with the shoulder. I think he’s the kind of guy that could certainly be in the discussion when you get into the third-, fourth-, fifth-round area.

“John Wetzel out of Boston College is more of a mid-round guy as a right tackle prospect, as well.”

So settle in, folks, for a thrilling journey through the pre-draft world of safeties and right tackles over the next few months. It might not grab your attention like quarterback talk did, but it’s a great sign of progress for the Redskins.