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2016 Redskins Position Battles: Defense

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With training camp set to begin Thursday, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda looks at some of the top position battles to watch on the defensive side of the football while the team is in Richmond.

In just a few short days the Washington Redskins will open up 2016 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., with plenty of position battles that will have to be resolved.

Here are some of the competitions on the defensive side of the football that will be highlighted in the coming weeks:

Cornerbacks

While the top two cornerbacks in Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland appear set in stone in the starting lineup, how the rest of the unit stacks up could first be determined at training camp.

At the nickel cornerback spot, rookie Kendall Fuller and Dashaun Phillips will battle for the position throughout camp.

Fuller, a third-round pick out of Virginia Tech, only participated in portions of OTAs and mandatory veteran minicamp as he continued to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered last September.

In his place, Phillips worked with the first-team defense at nickel and impressed quite a few of his teammates and the coaching staff, including defensive backs coach Perry Fewell.

"We worked him all throughout the year last year at that spot, and so he's brought that experience just from practice," Fewell said. "He's gained about 10-12 pounds, he's gained some muscle. He looks good, so he's taking advantage of this opportunity. He jumped on that nickel spot and he's not getting loose for anybody and that's what competition is all about. Now when we go into the fall it'll be a battle, but right now he's secured that position."

Fuller was projected by some to be a first-round pick prior to last year's injury, though. That talent could lead to playing time right out of the gate.

"He is a heck of a player," veteran safety DeAngelo Hall said. "You can tell he was coached up real good in college. It wasn't the same coach I had, so I a little nervous and didn't know what to expect. He's grasped everything so far and we're just excited about getting him healthy and getting him back out there with us."

Training camp will also mark one year since Quinton Dunbar made a surprise move to cornerback from wide receiver.

Due to his length (6-foot-2), Dunbar was able to offset a lack of experience with his natural gifts. He would finish his rookie season with 15 tackles and an interception.

His growth was evident during offseason workouts at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park when he played well in coverage and logged a few interceptions.

"I've got confidence in myself and my abilities," Dunbar said. "I know what I can do. I know I come out here and compete every day. The picks are just a bonus from all the hard work and what I do."

Training camp will be a litmus test for just how far he's come, though, and whether he can take on a bigger workload.

Beyond the additions of Norman and Fuller in the offseason, the Redskins also added veteran Greg Toler in April.

Toler started all 25 of his regular season appearances for the Indianapolis Colts over the last two seasons.

His hope is that the information he's accrued over seven NFL seasons will help earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

"I'm trying to just bring my knowledge of the game," Toler said. "I've been in quite a few different systems and my playmaking ability, just showing guys that once we're rolling and we get the camaraderie, we can just keep building on that."

Veteran Jeremy Harris and rookies Lloyd Carrington and Mariel Cooper round out the unit and will receive ample playing time during training camp to earn a spot higher up the cornerbacks ladder.

Outside Linebacker
While Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette and Preston Smith will perform quite the pass rushing trio for the Redskins this season, the fight for the fourth outside linebacker role will be one to watch during training camp.

Before the Redskins head to Richmond for training camp, check out who all is on the roster position-by-position. Today, it is the outside linebackers

With Galette on Injured Reserve during the entire regular season last year, the Redskins used Kerrigan and Smith frequently with Trent Murphy – now a defensive end – and Houston Bates among those also contributing at the position.

Bates returns this season after going from a rookie minicamp tryout player all the way to the active roster last year. He was a preseason star, too, recording three sacks in four games.

Another practice squad member from last season that's trying to seize a spot is Lynden Trail.

At 6-foot-7, Trail is the tallest player Washington has on the defensive side of the football. The Norfolk State product will do anything it takes to land a roster spot. During OTAs, Trail got quite a bit of work in passing situations.

"My thing is I'm not picky; I'm going to do whatever the coaches want me to do at the end of the day," Trail said. "Anything to help this team win is what I'm here for. I'm not here to just practice or whatever; my goal is to eventually pump up to active and do what I can- whether its special teams, Gatorades on the sideline, don't matter, I'm all in."

The Redskins also brought in Willie Jefferson -- who was most recently playing in the CFL -- along with rookies Shiro Davis, Ejiro Ederaine and Mike Wakefield to compete at the position.

Like Bates did last season, one of the players from this group could turn a standout month in August into a roster spot.

Inside Linebacker
With Perry Riley Jr. still sidelined throughout offseason workouts following an early December foot injury, Mason Foster and Will Compton worked with the first-team at inside linebacker just as the pair did during the last month of the 2015 regular season.

Compton, an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, came into his own last season once he cracked the starting lineup.

He finished the season with 122 tackles – most among players returning to the Redskins this season – along with his first career interception and sack during the final two regular season games.

Asked to be a vocal leader of the defensive unit, Compton wasn't shy taking command during practices.

"Will's a great leader; I think he does a really good job of getting the other 10 guys on the field to play better when he's in there," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "I think that's the sign of a good player and it's hard to account for, it's hard to measure. When a guy steps in a huddle, 10 other guys play at a higher level because he's in there. I think everybody's looking for that type of player and if you can find one, it's something special. I believe Will is that player."

Foster was originally signed by the Redskins prior to Week 4's game against the Philadelphia Eagles last season after Martrell Spaight was placed on Injured Reserve.

Eventually working his way into the starting lineup in place of Riley Jr., Foster was effective in the middle of Joe Barry's defense.

"It was big, getting a guy with some experience and Mason's played a lot of football in the NFL, he's started a lot of games, made a lot of tackles and he's kind of been there before," Redskins inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "Then he understood that all of a sudden, 'Oh shoot, you've got to go help us win a game." And not only win a game, but those games down the stretch he helped us win and he did a great job."

But Riley Jr. won't be easy to unseat in the starting lineup. Whenever he's been healthy, the LSU product has been a full-time starter on defense since the 2011 season.

The team also returns Spaight and Carlos Field along with the additions of Terence Garvin and Steven Daniels.

A wildcard at the positon: Su'a Cravens.

The 21-year-old is listed as a safety on the roster, but spent his entire offseason at inside linebacker.

"Right now they want me to learn the linebacker position from inside and out," Cravens said in May. "Then later on they'll see what I can do from the strong safety position, guarding tight ends and whatnot. Right now, I just have to learn my playbook and middle linebacker."

Safety
Outside of Duke Ihenacho, all of the safeties on the roster are either new to the Redskins or making a full-time switch over to the position.

That starts with free agent acquisition David Bruton Jr. and DeAngelo Hall, both of whom worked with the first-team defense throughout OTAs.

Bruton Jr. was a special teams star with the Denver Broncos, but the 6-foot-2, 225 pounder believes new scenery in Washington opens the doors to an expanded role.

"I did not come here to be mediocre," Bruton Jr. said. "I came here to be great. I didn't leave a place [Denver] where I have been comfortable just to be a special teams guy. My goal is to play every down and to make plays every chance I get."

Hall, meanwhile, was given an entire offseason at safety after slowly transitioning to the position from cornerback mid-season last year.

Still one of the quickest players on the field even at 32 years old, Hall believes his track record and experience will guide him through a move that will likely extend his career for a few more seasons.

"It was the change I needed to be rejuvenated and get back focus and excited about playing football again and I'm enjoying it," Hall said. "I'm enjoying the mental aspect of it and I'm enjoying lining guys up. That's something as a corner you just worry about yourself and the guy in front of you, but as a safety I've got to worry about all 11 guys on the field and it's been fun for me. I'm still learning some different things, but I'm having a blast. I enjoyed being able to get a little taste of it last year and start from scratch this year."

Also making the full-time switch is Will Blackmon, who spent his first nine NFL seasons at cornerback including the 2015 season when he was signed by the Redskins in Week 2.

Blackmon admitted during the offseason that playing safety has been an adjustment, but one he's fully committed to this year.

"[At safety] I have to see everything, I have to communicate to the defensive backs, I have to communicate to the safety and I have to make sure I'm on my landmark," Blackmon said. "So there's a lot of mental stuff that I think process wise I'm getting much better so I'm actually happy where I am."

The coaching staff also remains high on Ihenacho, although the San Jose State product has had each of his first two seasons with the Redskins prematurely cut due to early season injuries.

"We haven't really been able to see [him], we just see him at practice running around, and the games he did play he really was a sound tackler and a physical player as well," Gruden said. "And he can actually run very well, so we're anxious to see what he can do with actually playing some time."

Deshazor Everett and Geno Matias-Smith are also in the mix while the status of Kyshoen Jarrett remains unknown right now after a nerve issue sidelined him for the entire offseason.

And just like at inside linebacker, Cravens' role at safety has yet to be established.

Defensive Line

A position group without a clear hierarchy or concrete rotation just yet, Redskins defensive line coach Robb Akey wants all of the players within the group to look at spots within the rotation as "wide open."

"They all are fighting to see who's going to be in that mix and how many can be in that mix when we get to that point," Akey said. "That's the way we've rotated it, each practice it a little bit different so we can get guys in different positions so we can kind of see who handles which situations the best."

While Chris Baker is in the driver's seat to be a starter at one of the defensive end spots, Richmond will give a sampling of how the likes of Ricky Jean Francois, Stephen Paea, Kendall Reyes, Ziggy Hood, Trent Murphy and others fit within the mix.

"My job at this point is changing those lineups and putting guys in different scenarios so we can find where guys different strengths lie," Akey said. "I think it's up to me to help keep that competitive edge going, they bring it with them every day, but things where I can help to make them do their job a little better."

The nose tackle position, for now, appears to be Kedric Golston's job. But others certainly have a shot to make playing right in the middle of the defensive line.

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