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Training Camp Non-Issues

I thought to myself this morning, there is so much doom and gloom when it comes to the Redskins training camp issues – whether it be the Haynesworth situation, the aging backfield, or Malcolm Kelly’s hamstring injury… I decided to focus on the non-issues heading into camp this afternoon. In other words, what are the givens? What are the unquestionable strengths of this team even before the pads go on?

1. Quarterback – Donovan McNabb. What more needs to be said about his addition to this team? We know he can win, we know he’s taking a leadership role on his team, and we know he’s going to take it extremely tough to the division rival Eagles when they meet. Without a doubt, McNabb joining the Redskins was the most surprising and exciting off season move in the NFL, still.

2. Coaching Staff and GM – Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, and Bruce Allen. The level of upgrade over Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato is well off the charts. Dan Snyder was so impressed by bringing these guys in, he’s decided to let them run the team this year. Unbelievable!

3. Tight Ends – Chris Cooley. Cooley is back and healthy this year after missing much of last season with a knee injury that required surgery. Since he’s been off hiking in fishing out west for the last month – I expect him to be healthy and happy heading into training camp, and ready to start catching bullets from McNabb. Fred Davis has hands, but his blocking needs work – particularly run blocking which is going to be so critical this year in a new scheme. Inconsistent production needs to come together for Davis this year overall. And although blocking all around at TE is a bit of a liability, I think the new zone blocking scheme in concert with some chipping from Cooley and Davis will work wonders this season.

4. Linebackers – London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo. The backbone of Jim Haslett’s 3-4 scheme is going to be the LB’s and the Redskins have two of the best in the business in 2010 at their respective positions. Fletcher is the unquestioned leader of the Redskins defense. He’s the premier playmaker, run stopper, cover LB and frankly the heart and soul of the Redskins identity. Calling plays each and every down, and then executing when it counts is going to continue to be a knowable strength the Fletch brings to the team. Brain Orakpo on the other hand is essentially a second year stud. He showed as much promise last year as an outside pass rusher as a rookie could possibly have. On pure pass rush he was the best in the NFL last season. That’s above Brian Cushing folks. The transition to 3-4 puts his abilities as a pass rusher on full display – I’m thinking in a Pittsburg style defense Orakpo is going to be like a young James Harrison… a pass rush specialist that can grow into other abilities like stopping the run and being a decent cover LB. However, the unquestionable priority is sacking the QB. At 6’3″ 263 – Orakpo has a natural framwork to not only get to the QB, but to get his arms up and cause problems in coverage. I look for LB coach Lou Spanos to work with Orakpo in camp to develop the finer points of his game there.

5. Clinton Portis – While Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are question marks for so many of us, Clinton Portis is not. We know what we can expect of him, a good all around RB that can cut, block, catch, and drive if need be. As of yesterday, Kyle Shanahan said of Portis:

“From what I’ve seen of Clinton, he’s been as good of a leader, as good of an example as any player that I’ve been around so far. If it continues I think we’ll have real good things from him this year.”

And there you have it.

6. Offensive Line – I’m not willing to say the offensive line is a strength, but it is an optimistic unit that requires some further inspection. Trent Williams at LT and Jammal Brown at RT were the two huge and obvious moves that seriously upgraded this unit. LG Derrick Dockery and Casey Rabach will be returning with continuity at Center. Then at RG Mike Williams is unfortunately out for the season with blood clots, so you’ve got some competition for the remaining RG position. Amongst the contenders you have perpetual backup and former Viking Artis Hicks, 26 year old Stephon Heyer who got destroyed at RT last season, second year rookie Edwin Williams with two starts to his name, and William Robinson who has 49 snaps at RT and no starts to his career. So a unit that started out as joyous just a moment ago has slid backward dramatically into the realm of hopeful. But in the end it’s an upgrade from where the Redskins were a season ago, and for that it’s worth noting as a positive given heading into camp.

All in all, it should be a very exciting story to watch unfold at camp this season.

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