Pat Kirwan recently visited Redskins camp in Ashburn, Va. Here's what he saw.
1. The quarterback competition is taking shape. John Beck was back at practice after missing time with a groin injury, and his passes were razor sharp. Still, he's a guy who hasn't started a game since 2007. Beck has his work cut out for him, especially after the way Rex Grossman looked in practice and during 26 pass attempts in the preseason opener. One thing that was clear during my visit, the competition is down to these two barring injury. The Redskins believe they can succeed with the winner of this battle. At this point, I would pick Grossman to win the competition.
2. The defensive line is headed in the right direction. Thank goodness Albert Haynesworth is gone, and the defense can focus on improving from its 31st ranking from a year ago. The Redskins took two solid defensive linemen from division opponents in signing Barry Cofield (Giants) and Stephen Bowen (Dallas). The Redskins' 3-4 defense will be on the move with all the quickness the two new guys possess. There's a chance the defense can stop the run with seven in the box and won't always need to bring a safety down to help.
3. The inside linebackers could provide more pressure. Brian Orakpo is already an established pass rusher, and first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan is emerging on the other side. That duo will force teams to go to fan protections at some point, which means the offensive tackles step out to block the outside linebackers and the guard steps out to block the defensive end. The Redskins will react to that protection scheme the same way the Pittsburgh Steelers do when LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison face it by blitzing the inside linebackers. Look for London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh to get the green light to come after the quarterback this year.
4. Tight end Fred Davis could be in line for a breakout season. Chris Cooley is sidelined with a knee injury and Davis is taking full advantage of the situation. As Mike Shanahan said, "Fred is down to 242 pounds from 260 last year, and he's a lot quicker."
New guys to watch
» 1. Ryan Kerrigan. The rookie has pass rush skills and is working on his pass drops. He could have seven to nine sacks this year with what one teammate called "a tireless motor." Kerrigan will be challenged early in his zone drops to have proper angles, the depth of his drops, holding off routes, and not biting on teaser routes. Grossman pointed out a sign or Kerrigan's development, saying "Ryan cut under a route with a great drop and forced me to look elsewhere."
»2. Jabar Gaffney. You might wonder why Gaffney, a veteran receiver acquired in a trade with Denver, made this list, but he was a teammate of Grossman's at the University of Florida and they definitely have reconnected in a big way.
»3. Roy Helu. Coaches and front office people are very pleased with the speedy running back, who was drafted in the fourth round. He's a candidate for the third-down job and could potentially get some work on other downs.
"Cofield's pass pressure from the nose tackle (position) in the first preseason game was something we hardly ever saw in the 2010 season."
--A Redskins coach
There will be upward of 10 new starters this season, which is nothing new to fans who have watched the team try to buy a championship in years past. The difference this time is that the club went after character guys who understand they are here to compete for a job. The Redskins will be a tough out this year and could finish 8-8. With a little luck, they could get to nine wins and be a wild-card candidate.