It has been an offseason of building for a strong 2006 season--as well as building for the future.
Optimism abounds at Redskins Park, as it does for every NFL team at this time of year. Players, coaches and fans alike have already started to look forward to training camp and the start of the regular season.
First things first, though: the full-squad mini-camp, June 16-18, is the last chance this offseason that coaches will be able to evaluate players in on-field action.
What are some of the top storylines to keep an eye on during mini-camp? Here are five to follow:
-- COMPETITION AT WEAK-SIDE LINEBACKER
Coaches will get an early look of the looming competition for playing time at weak-side linebacker. It should be among the closely watched positional battles of training camp.
Early on in mini-camp, all eyes will be on which linebacker is working with the first-team defense. The initial lineup could be misleading, however. Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams likes to mix and match at several positions, depending on personnel and game situations.
Warrick Holdman, who started seven games at the position last year, returns for a second season.
Chris Clemons is also back; he often replaced Holdman and LaVar Arrington on third downs last year.
Second-round draft pick Roger "Rocky" McIntosh will sit out the mini-camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday. It's a setback for the rookie linebacker, to be sure, but he'll be fully healthy by the start of training camp.
McIntosh headlines a group of young players battling for playing time. Robert McCune and Khary Campbell will also be in the mix.
Spencer Havner, an undrafted rookie is another linebacker who could bear watching. A highly touted outside linebacker at UCLA, Havner is a long-shot at this point of the offseason.
-- THE YOUNG ONES
The Redskins have talent and depth at most positions, and that means few spots will be available when the team starts to whittle down the roster in preseason.
Still, there are opportunities. And coaches will not shy away from giving an undrafted rookie an opportunity if he impresses--witness linebacker Zak Keasey last year.
Who are some young players to keep an eye on during mini-camp and beyond?
Reed Doughty, a sixth-round draft pick out of Northern Colorado, is one of only six safeties on the roster.
Sean Taylor, Adam Archuleta and Pierson Prioleau should see significant playing time this season, but Doughty is expected to battle for the fourth safety spot with Curry Burns and Dennard Wilson.
Jim Molinaro, Ndukwe Ikechuku, Jon Alston and Kili Lefotu are expected to be among a group of offensive linemen competing for a backup jobs at guard and tackle.
Kevin Simon, a seventh-round draft pick out of Tennessee, could make a run at becoming Lemar Marshall's backup at middle linebacker. He is expected to compete with McCune and Campbell. Simon has shown confidence and poise in OTAs.
David Lonie, an undrafted rookie punter out of Cal, could pressure third-year punter Derrick Frost. The Aussie punter recorded 61 punts for a 41.9-yard average for the Golden Bears last year. In 2004, he had 47 punts for a 40.0-yard average.
A pair of second-year fullbacks, Manuel White, Jr., and Nehemiah Broughton, could find themselves competing against each other for a backup job behind starter Mike Sellers.
Lastly, a trio of rookie defensive tackles--fifth-round draft pick Anthony Montgomery, sixth-round draft pick Kedric Golston and undrafted rookie Manaia Brown--should be in the mix for a backup job along-side returning veterans Ryan Boschetti and Cedric Killings.
-- WIDE RECEIVERS
The Redskins have several new, fleet-footed corps of wide receivers this year, headlined by Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd. The mini-camp will be the first demonstration of how their speed can impact the Redskins' offense.
Of course, Santana Moss returns for his second season in Washington. He developed into an elite receiver last year when he logged 84 catches for a franchise-record 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns.
After Moss, how will the wide receiver corps shake out among Moss, Randle El and Lloyd? The first glimpse will come during mini-camp.
David Patten also returns, determined to show that last year's injury-plagued season was a fluke. Team officials have been glowing in their praise of Patten in OTA sessions this offseason. The nine-year veteran had 22 catches for 217 yards last year.
Who will round out the roster at wide receiver? James Thrash is a likely candidate, given that he has experience as a kick return specialist.
Taylor Jacobs, Ron Johnson, Ataveus Cash and several undrafted rookies will also get a close look.
-- IN THIS CORNER...
Will Kenny Wright be challenged as the nickel cornerback? The Redskins signed Wright, a seven-year NFL vet, on April 3 to add depth to a secondary that includes Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers at cornerback.
Wright started all 16 regular-season games for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. A former fourth-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings, Wright has six interceptions and three sacks in his career.
The depth at cornerback will be scrutinized closely by new secondary-cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray. Ade Jimoh and Christian Morton are among a group of young players who could make a move to challenge Wright. The team kept four cornerbacks last year.
Jimoh has steadily improved each year since the Redskins signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2003.
Morton is a third-year player who has experience playing in big games, including the Redskins' regular-season finale last year.
-- DEVELOPMENT OF JASON CAMPBELL
While Mark Brunell remains the starter at quarterback, Jason Campbell and Todd Collins will need to be ready in case he sustains injury during the regular season.
Brunell has a small fracture in his left index finger and will sit out mini-camp, but he should be fully healthy for the start of training camp.
Collins will likely be crisp during mini-camp. He played under associate head coach-offense Al Saunders in Kansas City and is familiar with the ins and outs of the new offense.
But Campbell is learning his sixth different offense in as many years.
As the Redskins' quarterback of the future, Campbell will be watched closely for signs of improvement. If the former first-round draft pick impresses, then he should be in the mix for the backup job with Collins.