- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Beat writers David Elfin and Ryan O’Halloran debate some key questions as the Redskins enter training camp. This week Elfin got first crack at the questions; there will be a role reversal next week. Stay tuned for this weekly treat; only 23 more to go.

1. What is the biggest issue facing this team as it heads into training camp?

Elfin: Can the defense, with the same subpar line, recapture the intensity and swagger that made it one of the NFL’s best in 2004 and 2005?

O’Halloran: I’d agree that the entire defense is an issue but to mention another position, I think a No. 2 receiver needs to be flushed out. If Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El struggle in the preseason, that puts more pressure on the running game and on Jason Campbell to thread the needle by throwing into coverage in search of Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. If Lloyd/Randle EL prove to be serviceable, that will allow Moss/Cooley to work against single coverage.

2. Is Campbell that big of an upgrade over Mark Brunell at this point?

Elfin: Campbell is better than Brunell because he has a better arm and is more of a playmaker. Campbell is also all upside, unlike the fading Brunell. A team coming off a 5-11 season needs some excitement from its quarterback.

O’Halloran: The way Brunell was throwing in his last start at Philadelphia, my eight-month-old niece would have represented an upgrade. Campbell is the better choice because his arm strength allows Al Saunders to stretch the offense vertically, which in turn means defenses can’t put 9-10 players in the box to stuff the run. Campbell will throw more interceptions than Brunell but his yards-per-completion will also be higher.

3. Who will be the surprise of training camp?

Elfin: Receiver Mike Espy, a rookie free agent in 2006 and the son of the former Secretary of Agriculture, constantly shines in practice. Espy is undersized, but his hands, speed and guts could put him in the mix opposite Santana Moss.

O’Halloran: I’m going to take a flier on cornerback Carlos Rogers. Let’s face it he had a sophomore slump last year and was consistently beaten for big plays, whether it be 25 yards or 7 yards on a third-and-6 play. But I’m guessing the return of Fred Smoot has sent a message to Rogers that he needs to play better.

4. Do any of last year’s holdovers not make this team?

Elfin: LaRon Landry will be the only draft pick to have an impact in 2007, but H.B. Blades could well succeed London Fletcher at middle linebacker by 2009.

O’Halloran: Wow, this is scary. I actually agree with D.E. The way the Redskins have approached the draft the last several years, it’s tough to figure more than their first draft pick making an impact. No rookies really contributed last year. It will be interesting to see how tight end Tyler Ecker fits into the blocking scheme.

5. Besides LaRon Landry, will any of the draft choices make an impact?

Elfin: Defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, who got his start under assistant head coach Gregg Williams in Tennessee, is the most likely veteran to get cut. Cornerback Ade Jimoh, who dates to the Steve Spurrier regime, is also in serious jeopardy because of the additions of free agents Fred Smoot, David Macklin and Jerametrius Butler.

O’Halloran: I think Salave’a has a better shot of making the team than Jimoh because the Redskins didn’t sign a handful of players to compete with Big Joe. Jimoh who hasn’t proven in five years that he can play cornerback in the NFL is keepable only as a special teams player. If Butler in particular can hold his own on special teams, he makes the roster because he’s far better as a corner.

6. Gut feeling: How many wins and why for this club?

Elfin: The Redskins aren’t as good as the team that caught fire down the stretch and made the playoffs in 2005, and they aren’t as bad as the team that went 3-9 to close the 2006 season. The Redskins figure to be healthier than they were in 2006 and should be better on defense. However, they’re not as good as the Eagles or Cowboys and have tough games with the Patriots, Bears and Jets. I’m forecasting a 7-9 season.

O’Halloran: The first six games will tell the story. The schedule sets up nicely for the Redskins if they’re any good, they should be 4-2 (wins over Miami, the Giants, Detroit and Arizona) heading into a stretch of at Patriots, at Jets, vs. Eagles, at Cowboys, at Bucs. That’s where the season will be decided. I’ll pick 8-8, which means Joe Gibbs returns in 2008.

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