Running back, inside linebacker and outside linebacker lead the list of position battles sure to dominate the rest of the Washington Redskins’ offseason process.
At each spot, a new face will bid to make the position his own, with rookies favored to eventually win starting spots at running back and outside linebacker. Meanwhile, a free-agent arrival is sure to stake a claim to become the playmaking signal-caller Washington’s defense needs at the heart of its linebacker corps.
Veterans signed during free agency will also feature heavily in position battles at nose tackle and free safety. Yet the Redskins will again count on draft picks to help refresh things at center and third cornerback.
Read on for a full breakdown of Washington’s most significant position battles this offseason.
The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.
The incumbent is Shawn Lauvao, a seven-year veteran who started 14 games last year. He struggled from time to time, notably against the Cardinals when he gave up a game-turning sack and strip to Calais Campbell. Lauvao is in the last year of the four-year deal he signed as a free agent in 2014 and he costs $5 million against the salary cap. Third-year guard Arie Kouandjio is the challenger. The 2015 fourth-round pick started two games last year when Lauvao was injured. He looked lost against the Browns in Week 4 but he recovered and played better against the Eagles in Week 14.
And the winner is . . .
Tandler: I see a very strong likelihood that Lauvao starts against the Eagles in Week 1. It seems that Jay Gruden trusts Lauvao, perhaps more than his level of play warrants. One indication of this is the fact that the team did not go after a viable challenger for Lauvao in free agency. In the draft, the only O-lineman they took was sixth-rounder Chase Roullier, who is going to be spending his time learning to back up at center and both guard spots, not challenging for a starting job. That leaves Kouandjio, who didn’t appear to be ready last year when he got the chance. Lauvao is no threat to make the Pro Bowl or anything but it’s his job to lose and right now I don’t see anyone on the roster to whom he can lose it.
Finlay: 2016 was the worst season of Lauvao’s seven-year career, at least according to data compiled from Pro Football Focus. Watching Redskins games closely, however, it was obvious Lauvao’s play did not slip until after a Week 3 injury against the Browns. Again, late in the season and particularly against the Cardinals, Lauvao was hurt. That game in Arizona came during Trent Williams’ suspension, when much of the offensive line was hurt and playing without their best player. Like Tandler said, Lauvao won’t push for a Pro Bowl bid, but if he can stay healthy he’s quite serviceable. Fans dislike of Lauvao outpaces his actual play, when healthy. Staying healthy is hard though. It will be interesting to see if Kouandjio has gained enough strength to really push for this job. Arie has a chance, but he does not have the upper body muscle of Lauvao, or at least he has not shown it yet. Repeatedly in 1-on-1 drills last season and particularly in Richmond, Kouandjio got shoved backwards. That can’t happen this summer if he wants to push Lauvao for the left guard gig. The Redskins like to develop offensive lineman internally – look at the success of Spencer Long and Morgan Moses, not just first-round guys like Williams and Brandon Scherff. Kouandjio would fit that bill. He will be in his third season, that’s when Long really looked his best at starting center and Moses began to run heads with his play at right tackle. The opportunity will be there, but don’t forget, Lauvao was signed in 2014, after the Shanahans left town and Bruce Allen was calling the shots. We all know who is calling the shots now, again.