May 21, 2012; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) smiles while stretching during organized team activities at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
The Redskins will begin training camp practices Thursday morning. SBNation DC counts down the top storylines heading into this year's camp.
It's that time of year again.
After an eventful offseason highlighted by drafting of the team's newest hope, quarterback Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins players reported in full to the team's Ashburn headquarters Wednesday for the start of training camp, with practices set to begin Thursday morning.
Mike Shanahan will enter the third year of his rebuilding project with a younger, seemingly improved team. But despite the busy offseason, there are still plenty of questions about just how much Washington's roster has improved from a year ago.
With that, let's take a look at the top four Redskins storylines heading into this year's training camp.
4. The Offensive Line's Chemistry and Consistency
In 2011, the Redskins offensive line - and, really, the unit as a whole - suffered a swift and sudden rash of injuries that would eventually derail the season, an ill-fated stretch that began in the Week 6 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In that game, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger - considered the team's best zone-blocking lineman - was lost for the season due to an ACL and MCL tear. The following weeks saw constant line shuffling and a season-ending suspension of 2010's fourth overall draft pick Trent Williams for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Not surprisingly, the Redskins had a hard time scraping together a starting five that produced results from week to week, going from wide-eyed rookies like Maurice Hurt to off-the-street free agents like Tyler Polumbus.
A year later, 2011's Week 1 starting five will return in full, but the group still has plenty of questions surrounding them.
Will Lichtensteiger be able to return to form after such a devastating knee injury? What about Jamaal Brown, who's struggled with a hip injury since the team traded for him in 2010? Just how good is this starting five in the first place? How improved is their depth, with the additions of rookies like Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis?
With a first-year quarterback in the fold, it's safe to say that keeping him upright will be of the highest importance. With that task ahead of them, it'll be up to a rehabilitated offensive line to stay healthy and build the type of chemistry in 2012 that they weren't able to a year ago.
3. Health of the Wide Receiving Corps
When Mike Shanahan was first peppered with questions about Robert Griffin III shortly after the draft, he consistently went back to the same point: Having a franchise quarterback is great, but he has to have the right supporting cast.
That was Washington's primary objective this past offseason, to give their new passer as many capable weapons as possible. It started with the signing of former Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon to a five year, $42.5 million dollar contract, and continued with the signing of former 49er wideout Josh Morgan.
The two new additions, with the help of holdovers like second-year man Leonard Hankerson and grizzled veteran Santana Moss, will likely comprise the key contributors among the Redskins receiving corps.
But despite the upgrades, there are still concerns that keep this group from being considered a finished product. The biggest concern by far is the fact that two of the perceived top four receivers are still not fully healthy.
Hankerson, who suffered in a hip injury last year during the Week 10 game against the Miami Dolphins, is still very much a question mark. What's delayed his rehab is the fact that he did not have surgery when the injury first occurred, instead choosing to treat it without an operation. A mild setback came later when he had hip surgery well into the offseason, further delaying his rehab. By the end of minicamp, he was still not at 100 percent, but claimed he would be ready to go in training camp. It's natural to expect him to come back with some extra ramp-up time, but one has to wonder how long that'll take before he's back to full strength.
Morgan, who injured his ankle early last season in San Francisco, said as recently as minicamp that he too isn't yet back to his old self. The former Virginia Tech product is a receiver that Shanahan called "a complete player" earlier in the offseason, a skill set that prompted the team to give him a two year, $12 million dollar contract back in March. But it's also fair to say that Morgan's health is a concern heading into camp, which isn't exactly an auspicious way to start his Redskins tenure.
Figuring out the depth chart at receiver should be easier than it is just prior to camp. But it isn't, and that won't change until Hankerson and Morgan show that they will be good to go once Week 1 arrives.
2. Trent Wiliams and Fred Davis' (Potential) Road to Redemption
Last year, during their Week 13 matchup against the New York Jets, the Redskins were hoping to win back-to-back games since their 3-1 start. But by the time the game began, the press area at Fed Ex Field, along with the Redskins fanbase, were abuzz about something that had nothing to do with the game.
That's because reports were beginning to surface about Trent Williams' and Fred Davis' season-ending suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. By the time the media reached the locker room, after the game, the two talented but troubled players had been whisked away from the stadium, and were never seen or heard from again for the remainder of the season.
Since then, both have expressed remorse and a desire to move on from last year's disappointing ending. But that's one of the biggest questions heading into the 2012 season: Can they?
Williams, the 4th overall pick in the 2010 draft, has shown flashes of Pro Bowl talent in his first two seasons. But despite that, the Redskins believe he's only scratched the surface of his true potential. Going into his third season, it's only fair to start expecting a major return on the investment the organization made on him two years ago. That can't happen if he's not on the field.
Davis was in the midst of a breakout season in 2011, and was on his way to breaking multiple single-season franchise records for tight ends before he was suspended. What was especially unfortunate for Davis was that his suspension happened just prior to his free agency, which discouraged the club from giving him a long-term extension. Instead, the fifth year tight-end (whose off-field drama wasn't exclusive to his drug suspension ) was slapped with the franchise tag, signing what was essentially a one-year "prove it" deal.
Williams and Davis have plenty to prove heading into this season. With one strike left before a season-long suspension, the road to redemption for two of the team's younger talents will be a huge key to the offense's success or failure, and will be worth monitoring in 2012 and beyond.
1. All Things Robert Griffin III
If you need a hint of what the top Redskins storyline is in 2012, look no further than the scene at Redskins Park Wednesday afternoon. Throngs of print, radio and television media -- both local and national -- gathered around the podium waiting for the Redskins man of the hour: Robert Griffin III. Media crowds will continue to follow Griffin for the rest of camp, preseason, and the regular season. That's because everyone knows who the team's focal point is, and it's not even close.
The Redskins made a franchise-altering decision in March to part with the No. 6 pick, two future first-round picks and a second rounder to acquire the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback out of Baylor. So it comes as no surprise that his development is far and away the top story heading into training camp.
Griffin, whose athleticism and speed may only be matched by his charm and media-savvy, walks into an organization that is desperate for a franchise quarterback. Mike Shanahan and son Kyle believe they finally have the triggerman that can make their offense go, and together, they must show that with Griffin the Redskins are headed for better times.
That will start with the type of offense they will run, and how much tweaking the coaching staff will make to have Griffin feeling more comfortable. At Baylor, Griffin ran a spread offense along with the option to utilize his skills as a runner. It will be interesting to see the creative gameplans the Shanahans will cook up as camp and the season goes on, as Griffin's skill set is so diverse that the Redskins could be running completely different offensive sets from game-to-game and perhaps drive-to-drive.
And while all the on-field possibilities are intriguing, it's hard to talk about Griffin without mentioning his intangibles. His charisma becomes clear within moments of hearing him speak, and he has always been very accommodating to the media. But what's most interesting will how his teammates take to him early in the season. As a hyped rookie coming in, he'll be asked to develop into the emotional leader on offense, and pretty quickly. How fast can he inspire the confidence of his teammates? How does he respond to having a bad game, or even a string of bad games? How will he mesh with the Shanahans? It's hard to tell at this juncture, but everything the fans and the media have seen to this point suggest he's mentally equipped to handle the pressures that come with being labeled the "Face of the Franchise".
Griffin symbolizes hope to the Redskins organization as well as their fanbase, arriving in Washington with an almost unenviable amount of hype. But if he's even half the quarterback the Redskins think he can be in his first year, then perhaps the fortunes of this team -- one that's been mired in mediocrity for almost two decades -- may soon change.