NFL players on most teams report to training camp on Tuesday, and in Washington, there are far more questions than normal — even for a team that has made a habit of cycling through coaches and players.
A testing, quarantine and ramp-up period means coach Ron Rivera won’t get his first on-field glimpse of the team until mid-August. He’ll need to sort out a number of key roster battles in that condensed period before the Sept. 13 opener against Philadelphia.
Here are some of the groups worth watching during the next month and a half:
Tight ends: New offensive coordinator Scott Turner likes to use two-tight end sets, and he’ll be able to mix and match to his heart’s content.
Washington has four tight ends, none of whom is considered a sure-thing NFL starter, but all of whom can make a legitimate claim on playing time.
Jeremy Sprinkle returns from last year’s team, and will compete against NFL veterans Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) and Richard Rodgers. Undrafted rookie Thaddeus Moss will be fascinating to watch, particularly if he’s healed from the medical concerns that led to him falling off the draft board after a national championship season at LSU.
Left tackle: Similar to tight end, there are lots of options, but it’s quantity over quality.
NFL veteran Cornelius Lucas probably has the inside track on a Week 1 start, given how important the position is to protecting the quarterback.
Long-term, all eyes are on rookie Saahdiq Charles, who has already been training with right tackle Morgan Moses in Ashburn. Charles is a high-risk, high-upside pick who bring the athleticism Rivera and Turner value.
As for returning backup Geron Christian, he’ll hope the change in coaching revives a career that hasn’t gotten off the ground.
Running back: Is this the year Derrius Guice is healthy? Similar to longtime tight end Jordan Reed, the potential is tantalizing, but it hasn’t been realized.
Even if Guice isn’t ready, Adrian Peterson is as close to a sure thing as it gets in the NFL, and will be ready to take the snaps. Long-term, rookie Antonio Gibson’s development will be a fascinating subplot.
Cornerback: Go ahead and lock in Kendall Fuller for a starting spot, but where he’ll play remains a mystery. Fuller, a former Virginia Tech star, has done his best NFL work in the slot, but on this year’s crew, he’s probably good enough to pair with the opposing team’s top receiver.
Getting a big leap out of Jimmy Moreland (James Madison) and Fabian Moreau would go a long way toward helping Rivera sleep at night. In an NFC East loaded with quality receivers, Washington doesn’t have the firepower to compete at this position.
Defensive end: Finally, a good problem. Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat and Chase Young will compete for playing time at two starting spots.
All three are bona fide starters (yes, even Young, who hasn’t played an NFL snap yet). Finding a rotation that keeps everybody happy and engaged will be a challenge initially, but should sort itself as the grind of the season takes its toll.
It should be the most fun position to watch on this year’s Washington team.