Redskins' improvement may depend on health
They revitalized the franchise with a new quarterback. They brought in new receivers and welcomed a rejuvenated old one. It's what the Redskins needed.
But they also face major health questions all over the place, perhaps limiting their growth at several positions. When the Redskins open training camp Thursday, they will do so with a roster that in some areas is vastly improved. It's tough not to be coming off 11 combined wins in two seasons.
The real question comes next: Is it enough? The regular season will determine that. But here's a unit-by-unit look at whether the Redskins are improved entering training camp:
The starting unit is the same as the 2011 group that opened the season. But left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is coming off an ACL injury -- if healthy, his run blocking is good -- and right tackle Jammal Brown has played hurt the past two years. After drafting three linemen, the depth could be better, but it's too early to say that. However, left tackle Trent Williams was playing well before he was suspended, and if he continues that way, it will be a big boost to the offense. Still, it's hard to say the line is better. At best it's the same.
Pierre Garcon should give them more yards after the catch than Jabar Gaffney. Fellow newcomer Josh Morgan was better than any other receiver on the Redskins with his percentage of catches for 20 or more yards the past two years combined (16 in 59 catches compared to 16 in 137 grabs for Garcon). Santana Moss is in better shape, which will help. The questions surround health: Will Morgan have his explosiveness back this summer after last season's ankle injury? And will Leonard Hankerson be healthy after his offseason hip surgery?
It all depends on Tim Hightower's knee. History shows running backs fare worse in the season after an ACL injury. He's not a game breaker, but he can help all around. If he's not healthy, this group is worse. This is a decent group collectively, but each has questions. Roy Helu's durability is an issue, but he's effective if he gets around 15 touches a game. Evan Royster isn't a game breaker, but his decisive cuts fit well in this scheme. Darrel Young is a decent fullback.
The future is definitely better thanks to Robert Griffin III. The present? With two rookie quarterbacks among their top three, the Redskins will have growing pains. Griffin will make mistakes, just as Rex Grossman always did. But Griffin's ability to make huge plays with his arm and legs and his potential to get better makes this position stronger. If Kirk Cousins develops as a backup, this position is solved for at least several years.
Once more, it depends on health. This time it's Chris Cooley's knee. If the Redskins didn't want him, they already would have cut him. But if he proves his knee is fine, then Cooley still warrants a spot. He and Fred Davis could be a productive pair, with the latter's athleticism a great fit in this offense. Converted receiver Niles Paul is intriguing because of his speed. But if Cooley can't play, it's tough to say this unit is better or even the same.
It's the same group other than the addition of talented 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins. He missed all last season because of a torn ACL, but once he's reacclimated to the NFL game, he'll provide a huge help. The other improvement: Barry Cofield will be in his second season at nose tackle. He had to learn on the fly last season yet was effective.
Every starter returns, and second-year Ryan Kerrigan should be much better after a full offseason, so the unit should be better. The concern is when inside linebacker London Fletcher starts acting his age (37). It's going to happen at some point. Brian Orakpo improved his all-around game last year but must add another pass-rush move. He and Kerrigan are a good tandem, though neither is considered an elite rusher. This group must improve its pass coverage skills, especially third-year inside linebacker Perry Riley. The depth is OK.
The defensive backs definitely are not better, but that doesn't mean the unit is much worse. Why? Because O.J. Atogwe struggled last year and LaRon Landry played hurt (when he played). While the three new safeties all have major question marks, will their play be that much worse than what the Redskins received in 2011? Tanard Jackson has the most potential to help among the newcomers. The cornerbacks are the same other than the addition of Cedric Griffin.