- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2014

The NFL’s annual scouting combine will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis later this week, allowing teams to get their first extended look at more than 330 top college players. This event will mark the first time Jay Gruden, who replaced Mike Shanahan as the Washington Redskins‘ new coach, will represent the team in league business.

Gruden and the rest of the Redskins‘ contingent, including general manager Bruce Allen, owner Dan Snyder and the team’s assistant coaches, headed to Indianapolis on Monday to partake in meetings. The event itself won’t begin until Wednesday, when offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists undergo medical examinations. As always, it will be an important time for the Redskins – and Gruden – to shape their future.

1. What are the Redskins looking to find?

Twenty players are set to become free agents when the new league year begins in March, meaning the Redskins will have a lot of holes to fill – far more than the six picks they’re scheduled to have in the draft in May. The free agent signing period will affect many of their needs, but the Redskins don’t figure to draft many starters, either. They are likely to target a cornerback who they can develop, a safety (or two), a play-making wide receiver, an intelligent inside linebacker and an interior offensive lineman.

2. Isn’t that exactly what the Redskins were looking for last year?

Yes, and it’s also essentially what they needed the year before, as well. While Shanahan kept a significant number of his draft choices on the roster – 26 of 34 players he drafted over four years are still with the team – many of them have not panned out. Offensive guard Josh LeRibeus, for example, was a third-round pick in 2012 but did not dress this season, and left tackle Trent Williams, a Pro Bowler for the second consecutive year, was the only one of five offensive linemen Shanahan drafted who has become a starter.

3. At least the Redskins have a first-round pick again. Right?

Incorrect. Not only do the St. Louis Rams again hold the Redskins‘ first-round pick, the final piece in the trade that led to quarterback Robert Griffin III landing in Washington in 2012, they also hold the No. 2 pick in this draft. That could have allowed the Redskins to take a player such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, though it’s uncertain if he’d transition well to playing outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive scheme, or Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who they could plug in opposite Williams on the right side of the line. Or, they could have traded down, like the Rams may do again, and recoup additional draft picks that would help with their depth issues.

4. Who could the Redskins figure to target with their first pick?

It’s incredibly early to make any projections, especially because teams will use the combine to augment evaluations made by their scouting staffs over the past 12 months. Needs will fluctuate wildly; the Redskins could use a tall, sure-handed, quick wide receiver, but if they sign one as a free agent next month, that need diminishes. Washington is currently scheduled to make its first selection with the No. 34 pick, the second of the second round, and the last time it held that pick it took Devin Thomas, a wide receiver out of Michigan State, in 2008. Thomas was out of Washington in three years and out of the league this past season, but the two previous No. 34 picks weren’t busts: the Buffalo Bills selected linebacker Paul Posluszny in 2007 and the Cleveland Browns took linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in 2006.

5. What other draft-related developments will be worth following?

Those interested in the measurables will be interested in seeing how players such as Clowney perform during drills, especially since Clowney has said he is planning on running the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds – a time practically unheard of for players at his position. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will reportedly not throw to receivers during that portion of the event, but Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron all will, offering them a chance to boost their stock. And, it will be the first time Missouri defensive end Michael Sam will speak with reporters en masse since announcing on Feb. 9 he is gay, which is sure to continue the discussion of how welcoming the league will be to someone who is in line to be its first openly gay player.