With the Redskins set to open the preseason Thursday night in Baltimore. the Washington Times’ Ryan O’Halloran talks about five topics with News 4’s Lindsay Czarniak.
1. The Redskins have been in camp for nearly two weeks. So far through the practices and one scrimmage, what’s your biggest surprise and what should qualify as the Redskins’ biggest current concern?
LC: Surprise: I think the health of the defense. You look at LaRon Landry, healthy and ready to go and think about the prospects after watching Brian Orakpo show up in the first scrimmage.
Concern: I still think the offensive line is the biggest concern. Randy Thomas’ health is worrisome because of the fact that it is unclear if Chad Rinehart could start in his place should he go down with a more serious injury.
RO: Surprise: Rookie defensive end Jeremy Jarmon was a supplemental draft pick so he missed the entire off-season program. When Greg Blache says a player is impressing, I take note. Jarmon has looked good in pass rushing situations and could develop into a third down guy as well as a special teams contributor.
Concern: Right tackle. It’s Stephon Heyer’s job to lose but he’s already banged up. Jeremy Bridges has looked the part of a turn-stile early on and Mike Williams has looked like a guy who hasn’t been on the field in four years - which he hasn’t. It’s comical that the Redskins front office continues to believe Williams could start at any point this year.
2. The defense has been dominating in the practices. At what point will their in-game play be feared by NFL offenses?
LC: Good question - I give them until after Week 2 against the Rams for the Redskins defense to get beyond the Giants and really be able to flex their muscles. I realize this is wishful thinking so quickly into the season but to be honest, when they are as stacked as they appear, there shouldn’t be a reason not to expect big things early on.
RO: When the Redskins post turnovers and sacks on a regular basis is the point when they will become fearsome. The fourth-rated spot in yards and sixth-rated position in points last year were a bit of a cover up since they were a defense that couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter down the stretch. Their biggest test after Week 1 will come at Carolina in Week 5.
3. The Redskins were awful on punt returns last year and the coaching staff has hinted that while Antwaan Randle El will be the main returner, there could be a by-committee approach this year. Is this right approach? And, which players would be candidates to spell Randle El?
LC: This is a good approach and because he is an extreme optimist, Randle El would tell you it’s a good approach. He wants to increase his production after averaging 6.5 yards per return last year and the motivation to keep the job could be just what the Dr. ordered. DeAngelo Hall and Santana Moss will be the challengers but let’s be honest, do you want Moss returning punts when he is critical to the wide receiving corps?
RO: Randle El is finished as an effective punt returner. Just ask people inside the organization what they think of him and they use their hands to do zig-zag motions - he runs a lot but goes nowhere. But for the sake of the team, keeping him as the regular returner is the best thing because it prevents Moss and/or Hall from risking injury. Hall is the wild card. I would use him at least 2-3 times a game early on to see what he can do. He wants to return punts. The Redskins’ offense needs good field position to produce. It makes too much sense.
4. Everybody discussed it at the start of camp but now two weeks into the preseason, with developments around the division, where do you place the Redskins in the NFC East?
LC: I know Brian Westbrook is a workhorse, but with the question of his injuries, I’m putting the Eagles in the cellar. I think the Redskins have a significant chance to finish better than the Cowboys, but I’m worried about the health of the offensive line. If I’m ranking, I’m going Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles.
RO: It’s been a terrible few weeks for Philadelphia. The Eagles parted ways with safety Brian Dawkins (their defensive quarterback) this off season and then they lost middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (their new defensive quarterback) to an ACL injury. And they have a new defensive coordinator after the death of Jim Johnson. But running back LeSean McCoy has looked great. My early projection: 1. Giants. 2. Eagles. 3. Redskins. 4. Cowboys.
5. The preseason started Sunday in Canton and the Redskins start Thursday in Baltimore. From a Redskins perspective, what would qualify the game as a success?
LC: A strong, convincing performance from Devin Thomas - getting him over the hump to show this second starting wide receiver battle is really going to be something to watch. Also, a strong showing from the offensive line.
RO: Here are four players I want to see. 1. WR Marko Mitchell - can he make the team as a fifth receiver? 2. WR Marques Hagans. He’s drawn praise from Jim Zorn. 3. LB Chris Wilson. Is he effective enough in coverage to make the cut? 4. RG Chad Rinehart. Awestruck last year, he has to show Joe Bugel he’s ready for prime-time this year.