- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

Nine days, 11 practices and a snoozer of a scrimmage are in the past for the Washington Redskins.

Although contact has been at a minimum compared to camps run in places like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the last week has provided a small glimpse at some of the position battles at Redskin Park.

As the Redskins begin looking ahead to the preseason opener at Tennessee on Saturday night, here’s what has been learned through the opening stage of training camp:

c The injury situation is a concern.

Following Friday’s practice, coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins‘ injury predicament “worries” him but termed the health issues “minor.”

The first part of Coach Joe’s analysis make sense but not the second.

The Redskins should be worried that Clinton Portis (knee) couldn’t make it through a week of practice, that Chris Samuels’ sprained MCL could develop into a season-long problem, that Randy Thomas’ knee still is sore nearly two months after surgery and that Santana Moss‘ hamstring/groin and Marcus Washington’s hip remain issues.

None of those injuries — because of the nature of the ailment and the profile of the player — is minor. A running back with a knee problem? Trouble. A left tackle with a knee problem? Ditto. A receiver with leg issues? Uh-oh.

The Redskins don’t have proven replacement options if their No. 1 receiver, weak-side linebacker or right guard miss extended time. And even though Ladell Betts is a proven runner, Portis‘ injury bears the most watching because he has had three injuries in the last year.

c The long ball might be returning.

Because of his arm strength and willingness to take chances by throwing into coverage, quarterback Jason Campbell — with Al Saunders’ approval — is reintroducing vertical pass plays to the offense.

During the first three seasons of Gibbs Version 2.0, the Redskins have been OK in the home run pass — a combined 26 completions of 40 or more yards. They tied for sixth last year and tied for fourth in 2005.

But passes from 20 to 39 yards have eluded the offense. The Redskins completed 27 (last in the NFL) in 2004, 40 (tied for 18th) in 2005 and 39 (tied for 17th) last season.

The breakdown: The Redskins‘ offensive philosophy when Gibbs called the plays in 2004-05 and had an influence on the play-calling in 2006 was to establish the run, then take an occasional shot downfield.

That should change with Campbell. With an effortless flick of the wrist, he can throw the deep post 50 yards or hit the 15-yard slant that can turn into a big gain.

c Only a handful of jobs are available.

For a team that won only five games last year, there sure isn’t a lot of competition for roster spots.

On offense, a couple of reserve spots on the offensive line are up for grabs, and Corey Bradford holds an edge over Mike Espy for the fifth and final receiver position because Espy’s knee has kept him out for several days.

On defense, the No. 5 safety contest (Vernon Fox or Reed Doughty) bears monitoring, as does the Ade Jimoh watch. Jimoh somehow has survived even though he has not been trusted to play cornerback (he is almost exclusively a special teams player). Does time finally run out on Jimoh this year?

On special teams, kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Derrick Frost face no competition on the roster.

c Little is known about the defense.

This issue won’t be settled until the games start counting Sept. 9. There is no tackling or scrimmaging in practices, so it’s near impossible to tell whether the run defense is ready or whether the defense is getting pressure on the passer.

The secondary appears to be getting hands on more passes, Fred Smoot intercepted a pass in the Ravens scrimmage, and safety LaRon Landry already is running with the starters.

The good news is the defense is staying healthy, Cornelius Griffin appears to be in top condition and Joe Salave’a and Renaldo Wynn had good opening weeks.

It’s unclear whether Marcus Washington should be used as a rush end on passing downs: Does his skill set translate into winning one-on-one battles against much bigger players, or is he better suited to be used as a blitzer?

c Nobody can cover Chris Cooley.

The Redskins‘ linebackers and secondary have provided little opposition for Cooley, the fourth-year tight end. As safeties coach Steve Jackson said last week, “We’re still trying to find a way to cover Chris.”

Moss‘ injuries prevented him from participating in several offseason passing sessions (though he played a lot during 7-on-7 drills against the Ravens and looked sharp), leaving Campbell to develop a rapport with Cooley.

An example came last week. Cooley ran a pattern along the hash mark. Before he stopped and turned, the ball was being delivered by Campbell — a complete pass between two defenders. Both players recognized the coverage and were in synch.

Obviously, the first week of camp isn’t a complete barometer for what will happen during the 14 Sundays, one Monday and one Thursday that make up the regular season. But Cooley is in for a gigantic season.