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#HailMail: Player Roles, Remaining Free Agents And Training Camp

From left to right: Second-year Redskins Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims Jr., Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin work out at a local field to prepare for the 2020 season (Photo courtesy of Var Turner/Instagram: @imvar)
From left to right: Second-year Redskins Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims Jr., Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin work out at a local field to prepare for the 2020 season (Photo courtesy of Var Turner/Instagram: @imvar)

The Washington Redskins are still in the midst of virtual offseason workouts to prepare for the 2020 season. Here's what fans wanted to know:

Since Northern Virginia and Richmond are under more restrictive guidelines, is there any chance the Redskins will go somewhere else to train as a team? -- Troy D.

Players are still prohibited from club facilities, and since the offseason workout program usually ends in mid-June, there likely will not be organized team activities until training camp, which is scheduled to start in late July.

And when that does happen, they will be practicing at Redskins Park.

Washington has recently held training camp in Richmond, Virginia, but according to league mandate, teams will be using their own facilities to conduct training camp in 2020. That means the Redskins will congregate on their own practice fields in Ashburn, Virginia, to gear up for the upcoming campaign.

There are several free agents available who could make an impact on our starting units. Can you identify one available free agent who could have the most impact on the team should he sign with the Redskins? -- Dan O.

Guard Larry Warford and cornerback Logan Ryan are both popular choices as established veterans at positions where the Redskins have some uncertainty.

However, I don't believe Washington will pursue either player because of their price tags (Warford's last contract was worth $34 million over four years, and Ryan has asked for at least $10 million per year). The Redskins have loads of cap space, but head coach Ron Rivera has repeatedly preached developing the team's young talent while continuing to build through the NFL Draft.

One player who could have a considerable impact if signed is 30-year-old tackle Kelvin Beachum. A seventh-round pick in 2012, Beachum has started at least 13 games in six of his eight seasons, including each of the past four. He earned a 67.1 overall grade with the New York Jets in 2019, which is an "above average" grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

Currently, the Redskins' options to start at left tackle are Cornelius Lucas (longtime reserve), Geron Christian Sr. (two starts in two seasons) and Saahdiq Charles (fourth-round rookie). Compare that with Beachum, who has started many of his 99-career games at that position.

Beachum would certainly be the most expensive of the bunch, but he should not cost nearly as much as Warford and Ryan. Plus, he could step in immediately for a team in need of help on that side of the line.

Do you believe that the Redskins will upgrade the corner position? Why haven't they gone after a top free agent cornerback? Fuller was great, but don't you think they need another good corner? -- Xavier B.

Based on the Redskins' offseason moves and coaches' comments, they seem comfortable with what they have at cornerback.

After the team released Josh Norman, Rivera said at the NFL Combine that they were planning to replace him with players already on the roster. The Redskins traded away Quinton Dunbar during free agency, but they brought back Kendall Fuller and added Ronald Darby, a former second-round pick and Pro Football Focus' Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015.

Rivera praised both newcomers during his first post-free agency press conference in early April.

"We feel good about him as a corner and as a nickel for us as well," Rivera said of Fuller. "We think he's got some very good value for us as far as we're concerned."

"He's very quick, he's got a quick twitch, he plays with vision," Rivera said of Darby. "Some of the things that we want to do are going to give him an opportunity to have success because he is going to play through the receiver to the quarterback with vision. His anticipation is tremendous. He's a guy that we're really excited about just because of the success he's had."

Joining Fuller and Darby are fourth-round pro Fabian Moreau and 2019 seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland, who is expected to have a big season in the eyes of Landon Collins. That combination is enough to excite defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio about the unit's potential for 2020.

"[Rivera and vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith] have done a really good job of giving us some pieces to compete with that will help us be successful in the fall," Del Rio said. "A large part of that happened on the defensive side and in the back seven."

What does the team see as Cole Holcomb's strengths and weaknesses? His size and draft position remind you a little of Zach Thomas from the Dolphins of yesteryear. -- Nick C.

Interesting comparison, Nick, and in a lot of ways they are similar.

Both Zach Thomas and Cole Holcomb were highly productive collegiate middle linebackers and fifth-round draft picks who made immediate impacts. Thomas (154th overall) recorded 154 tackles en route to earning AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1996, while Holcomb (173rd overall) made 105 stops across 15 starts in 2019.

Thomas went on to become one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history -- he was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro -- so it is unfair to assume Holcomb will have even a fraction of that success. Still, Holcomb is a young player the Redskins' coaching staff is excited about.

"We have is an interesting mix. I am excited to get them on the field and let them compete," Del Rio said about the linebackers. "We have a blend. We have some older guys. Obviously adding [Thomas Davis Sr.], and you mash that up with a guy like Cole [Holcomb] who played last year, was thrust into the lineup and got some valuable experience and showed some real speed and linebacking ability."

At the NFL Combine, Rivera praised Holcomb's position flexibility and called him a "very intriguing" player. By being able to cover in space and stuff the run in the box, Rivera said Holcomb is a valuable asset in today's game.

"If the guy can stay on the field, you can change your defense, your defensive philosophy and look almost instantaneously, " Rivera said. "But now you start rotating guys in, you tip your hand a little bit that, 'Hey, you're going into your nickel package or you're going to call your nickel defenses.'"

How is Reuben Foster's knee rehab coming along? -- George W.

There has hardly been any information on the specifics of Reuben Foster's rehab. When a reporter asked about it in early April, Rivera said that Foster was doing a great job working his way back when he saw him at Redskins Park in March.

But last week, Del Rio provided an update on Foster. He said Foster has been involved in virtual team meetings and that the Redskins are approaching the situation as if he'll be fully healthy once the season starts.

"In terms of the mental approach and in terms of his participation in the meetings, being up to date with the install, getting the coaching and all of that, he's been on point with that," Del Rio said. "The part we can't impact right now is where he's at with his rehab and whether he gets the clearance to go."

Do you see Adrian Peterson getting enough rushes to lead this team? -- Thomas H.

There are a lot of reasons to think Adrian Peterson won't lead the team in rushes.

Not only is there a new coaching staff in place, but the Redskins signed running backs Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic during free agency and drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round. Derrius Guice and Bryce Love are also back and should be fully healthy to start the season.

But if the past two seasons are any indication, there's no reason to doubt Peterson, who turned 35 years old in March.

Since the Redskins signed Peterson ahead of the 2018 campaign, he has 462 rushing attempts for 1,940 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 12 rushing touchdowns. The rest of the team's ball carriers combined for 308 rushing attempts for 1,417 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and nine rushing touchdowns during that span.

Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner also hold Peterson in high regard. One of Rivera's first moves as the Redskins' head coach was to exercise Peterson's 2020 club option, and he has continued to highlight the future Hall of Famer throughout the offseason.

"For everything he's done and the career he's had, I'm excited to have him on the football team," Rivera said. "We picked up his option for a reason. We believe guys like that have a value beyond playing. He's going to play some quality football for us. But who he is as a person, I think it's going to resonate with our younger players and they're going to see that this is how you do it. And if you do it this way, you have a chance to have the type of career he's had."

Turner told reporters on May 27 that he has "a ton of respect" for Peterson, and even though his offense is better suited for pass-catching backs, he fully expects to utilize one of the leading rushers in NFL history.

"With Adrian and his skillset, when he's rolling, there's a role for that type of back," Turner said. "I understand what you're saying with the pass game stuff, and he's capable of catching check downs and those types of things. He's great when you have him in there for play-action passes, when you're trying to throw the ball down the field."

Will Cam Sims be given a chance to compete for a position? He wasn't given a chance after being injured on the opening kickoff in 2018 after being a success story during the preseason. -- Andre W.

Based on past productivity and current competition, Cam Sims seems to have a difficult path to making the 53-man roster.

After an ankle injury wiped out his entire rookie campaign, Sims was waived during final roster cuts last August but signed to the practice squad the following day.

He made seven appearances (one start) in 2019 but only made two catches for 27 yards.

The Redskins have 13 wide receivers right now, and only six or seven will make the 53-man roster, so Sims will likely have to dominate during training camp and in the preseason to warrant serious consideration.

I know one is listed as a running back and the other is a wide receiver, but both are electric players. I am wondering who the Redskins will rely on more this year to make splash plays: Steven Sims, Jr. or Antonio Gibson? -- Fran F.

The simple answer is that both will be used to make splash plays, according to Turner, who listed off some players who the Redskins could emphasize getting the ball to in 2020.

"Obviously there are a couple candidates," Turner said. "Steven Sims, you saw what he did at the end of the year. Antonio Gibson, talked about drafting him. J.D. McKissic is a guy who was a slot receiver at Arkansas State who played at Seattle and for the Lions and now is a running back but has done a couple different things. Those are three guys that really come to mind."

If I had to guess who would make more, I would guess Gibson simply because he does not have a defined role. At the beginning of last season, Sims was a the gadget-type player because he was not one of the starting receivers. But over the final several games, Sims became one of Dwayne Haskins Jr.'s favorite options and the clear No. 2 wideout.

With Haskins now the full-time starter, Sims could regain his place as a consistent contributor on the Redskins' offense. Gibson is part of a very crowded running backs room, so he'll likely receive his touches in unconventional ways.

Do you believe with Rivera as head coach, Del Rio as defensive coordinator and the drafting of Chase Young that our defense could be top 10 or even top 5 this year? -- Jon S.

Sure, the Redskins could become a top 5 defense, but that is not a reasonable expectation, even with the coaching and personnel changes. However, a top 10 defense seems within reach despite all of the struggles from a year ago.

In 2019, Redskins finished 27th out of 32 franchises in total defense with 385.1 yards allowed per game. And while their pass defense was average (238.9 yards allowed per game), their rush defense was second-worst in the league (146.2 yards allowed per game), and they gave up the sixth-most points per contest (27.2).

Rivera and Del Rio are two of the most respected defensive minds in the NFL, so considerable improvement should be expected. Just look what Del Rio has accomplished in other places: in 2002, he took over the league's worst defense in the Carolina Panthers and transformed it into the second-best. A decade later, the Denver Broncos went from 20th to second in his first year as defensive coordinator.

Plus, with the amount of talent on that side of the ball, the Redskins should have performed better than their final statistics. Along the defensive line, they boasted four former first-round picks and established veteran Matt Ioannidis. In the secondary, they had a three-time Pro Bowler in Collins.

The addition of Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, makes the Redskins' front one of the most talented in the NFL. It rivals that of the San Francisco 49ers, whose dominant pass rush helped them advance all the way to the Super Bowl.

If the Redskins can wreak similar havoc on opposing quarterbacks, therefore putting less pressure on the linebackers and defensive backs, there's a chance they could be one of the league's better defenses this fall.

In addition to the practice squad size being increased by two to 12, there is no limit to the amount of years a player is eligible for the practice squad. How do you think these rule changes will impact which players make the Redskins' initial 53-player roster and their practice squad compared to prior rules/years? -- Tim F.

By having two more practice squad players and no limitations in terms of seasons accrued, I think the Redskins' initial roster and practice squad will be a more accurate representation of how the coaches view the players than in the past.

In other years, the Redskins may have had to keep a veteran on the 53-man roster because otherwise they would have had to waive them. And by using that roster spot on a more experienced player, it might have taken a spot away from a younger player who deserved to be on the active roster from the beginning.

On the other hand, the team may have had to cut a veteran player because they needed the roster spot. Now they can keep them around on the practice squad.

Between the active roster and the practice squad, the Redskins will enter the regular season opener with 65 players. These new rules ensure that they'll be able to keep the best 65 players regardless of age.

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