ASHBURN — A word of caution: Teams don’t put much thought into the first training camp depth chart, a yearly requirement from the NFL. Former Washington coach Jay Gruden once remarked that he let the team’s public relations staff fill it out and didn’t bother to look at it.
So, with that in mind, the Washington Football Team released its first unofficial depth chart Monday ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
Even if taken with a grain of salt, here are some takeaways from the list:
Kam Curl ahead of Bobby McCain at free safety
Sometimes, these charts just confirm what reporters see in practice. That was the case with Curl, the second-year safety who has moved over to free safety upon Landon Collins’ return from a torn Achilles. Curl has split reps with McCain, a veteran signed this offseason from Miami, but Curl appears to have the inside track for the starting job.
Washington’s secondary values versatility and Curl has handled his switch to being the last line of defense well. He’s often in the right spot and has the instincts that coaches value in a spot like that.
DeAndre Carter holds punt returning duties, but Steven Sims is ahead in the receiving pecking order
Projecting Washington’s receivers on the 53-man roster can be difficult largely because of the special teams element. If Washington keeps six wideouts — what most teams keep — will the last spot be dedicated to a punt returner? Or will the team keep seven to include a returner?
Monday’s depth chart doesn’t provide clarity to that role, but it did reveal an interesting nugget that veteran DeAndre Carter is ahead of Steven Sims, the team’s punt returner of the last two years. If this chart is correct, then Carter will return the first punt and Sims will do it later in the game.
Sims, however, is ahead of Carter among the wideouts — listed behind only Adam Humphries as the team’s slot receiver. This battle isn’t over by a long shot.
James Smith-Williams may be the new Ryan Kerrigan
Smith-Williams, a seventh-round pick last year, needs — checks notes — 95½ sacks to surpass Kerrigan as Washington’s all-time sack leader. But in the short term, he can actually fill Kerrigan’s role from last year as the team’s key rotational pass rusher.
In practice, Smith-Williams is often the first one subbed in for Chase Young or Montez Sweat on the edge and has done well. Monday’s chart lists the 24-year-old behind Young, while veteran Casey Toohill backs up Sweat. Toohill, though, has been nursing an injury of late, making Smith-Williams the main go-to.
In any case, Washington didn’t feel the need to add a veteran pass rusher this offseason to replace Kerrigan, instead relying on their youth.
“He’s done a great job,” coach Ron Rivera said of Smith-Williams.
Offensive line competition not much of one so far
The offensive line didn’t contain any major surprises — with Wes Schweitzer listed ahead of Ereck Flowers at left guard and rookie Sam Cosmi ahead of Cornelius Lucas at right tackle.
The team brought back Flowers via trade in March, but so far, Schweitzer has gotten the majority of first-team reps — the exception being Monday when Flowers played ahead of Schweitzer.
Interestingly enough, Lucas is listed as the team’s primary backup left tackle rather than right — where he was expected to compete for the starting job. Instead, 2020 fourth-rounder Saahdiq Charles has been Cosmi’s backup. That’s how it has been in practice, as well.
Jamin Davis: Starting middle linebacker
This is a role that Davis has practically held all camp, and so the team’s depth chart reflects that. After drafting the Kentucky product 19th overall, Washington started Davis at the MIKE to help with his transition to the NFL — having him play the role he played in college. But in the weeks and months since, Washington has been more than impressed with how he’s handled the responsibilities.
Washington sees Davis as a three-down linebacker and even when Washington shifts to a sub package — say, nickel when only two linebackers are on the field — Davis will likely be out there.