Competition for roster spots, particularly at linebacker and safety, will be "a dogfight" come training camp, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said on Saturday.
In the last week, the Redskins have added three young linebacker prospects: second-round draft pick Roger "Rocky" McIntosh, seventh-round draft pick Kevin Simon and undrafted rookie pickup Spencer Havner.
All three are expected to compete for playing time at linebacker and on special teams.
"They are going to add to the mix," Williams said. "You will see that when your backup depth improves, you see a noticeable improvement in production on game day in your special teams. The cores of your special teams come from linebacker-body types.
"We have had some good young linebackers around here, but it is going to be a competitive battle at that position this year at our training camp. We'll bring in 10-13 linebackers to camp. It'll be a dogfight."
The Redskins carried seven linebackers on the roster last season. With LaVar Arrington departed to the New York Giants, there is a vacancy at the weak-side position. Warrick Holdman, Chris Clemons, Rober McCune, McIntosh and Havner could all compete for playing time at that position.
Strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington and middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, starters last year, will return to the lineup in 2006.
Williams discussed the addition of Havner at length. The 6-3, 237-pounder out of UCLA was expected to be a first-day draft pick, but he was overlooked on draft day. The Redskins signed him on May 4.
"Right now we have Spencer penciled in at the depth chart [at strong-side linebacker]," he said. "But our strong and our weak-side linebacker are interchangeable as we flip the formations. We always want Marcus Washington over on that strong-side, but Spencer can play either. We'll start him out [at strong-side], but he'll get reps at the weak-side linebacker, too."
"He has a smooth movement to him. He has a nice instinctive feel for coverage and that's usually one of the things that young linebackers do the worst. That is a good thing for him. The next thing he has to do is show us how tough he is. We'll know that only when the pads come on. But I like his body language right now. He has promise. He deserves the opportunity to be here. He deserves the opportunity to be at the next camp."
Williams also suggested that there could be intense competition at the safety position.
The Redskins currently have Sean Taylor and free agent newcomer Adam Archuleta will likely start and play in the bulk of defensive packages. Pierson Prioleau will likley serve as the primary backup and nickel safety. Second-year defensive back Curry Burns is also on the roster.
Meantime, sixth-round draft pick Reed Doughty has made a positive first impression at Rookie Camp. Doughty played his college ball at Northern Colorado, a Division 1-AA school.
"Reed fits that character issue perfectly that Joe Gibbs has identified for our personnel department: character, intelligence, toughness, commitment to a team," Williams said. "The kid has made instinctive plays to the ball. In order to be a good football player, you have to be good around the football. Last year, we were one of the top teams in causing fumbles, but we couldn't recover them too well until going down the stretch when the ball starts bouncing our way. Reed has been good around the ball.
"I don't care about his level of competition [at Northern Colorado]. He'll raise himself up to this level. The things that will give him the chance are his intelligence and his toughness. He'll be a nice prospect in the safety competition."
The new additions on defense give Williams the chance to increase the number of defensive packages coaches use on game day.
"We're going to play a lot of people, we're going to play a lot of packages and we're going to play a lot of safeties and linebacker packages," he said. "With [cornerbacks-secondary coach] Jerry Gray here, we're going to involve a few more corner packages that we haven't been doing the last few years. It'll be a competitive camp. It should be fun."