Between COVID-19, the changing of the team name, and then more negative press about the environment behind the scenes, there is probably no other fan base more than Washington's that is ready to talk about legitimate football instead of all the outside noise surrounding this season. Ron Rivera is now at the helm and he appears to be the perfect prospect to help orchestrate the sweeping change Washington needs -- not only in the front office but on the field as well. Still, it remains to be seen how quickly he will be able to get Washington out of the basement of the NFC East.
With the coaching change, a new offensive system, a new base defense, and even newer players, it will probably take some time for this team to establish an identity. Rivera's first mission will be to establish a depth chart that gets the most out of this team, and he has some tough decisions to make on both sides of the ball. Does Washington truly have a starting quarterback? Who will be protecting that quarterback's blind side? Who is going to get playing time at running back, tight end and wide receiver?
There are several position battles to keep an eye on when it comes to Washington, but let's take a look at five of the most intriguing ones. Since teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants have picked up some elite offensive weapons over the past year, it's hard not to also focus on the offensive side of the ball for Washington.
1. Tight end
Candidates: Jeremy Sprinkle, Logan Thomas, Richard Rodgers, Thaddeus Moss
With no more Vernon Davis and no more Jordan Reed, who is going to take over at tight end for Washington? The team did retain Jeremy Sprinkle, but Rivera was active in free agency and also signed former Detroit Lions tight end Logan Thomas and Richard Rodgers formerly of the Eagles. Still, there is another player who many fans are hoping evolves into Dwayne Haskins' security blanket. Shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft, Washington picked up Randy Moss' son, Thaddeus Moss out of LSU.
Moss was considered a top-10 tight end in this class and the No. 148 overall prospect, according to CBS Sports, but his stock fell after it was revealed during a physical at the NFL combine that he had a Jones fracture in his right foot. A dozen tight ends were taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Moss was not one of them. Moss caught 47 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns in 12 regular-season games for LSU this past season, as the Tigers went on to win the 2020 College Football National Championship. He may be a long shot, but Moss is definitely someone to watch in training camp.
2. Left tackle
Candidates: Cornelius Lucas, Geron Christian Sr., Saahdiq Charles, Timon Parris
With Trent Williams now gone, Washington has a hole to fill at left tackle. This will be one of the most interesting position battles to watch, as there really isn't a clear favorite. Washington did go out and sign former Chicago Bears right tackle Cornelius Lucas in free agency, but he has served mostly as a reserve tackle during his six seasons in the league. He did record a career-high eight starts last year, he but played on the right side.
Geron Christian Sr. has only started twice during his career and may still be a bit of a project. Still, he proved he had potential by blocking for Lamar Jackson during his Heisman campaign at Louisville and has a nice frame at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. Rookie Saahdiq Charles is probably the fan-favorite to win this job, but it's unclear how likely that is. Even if he's not on the field in Week 1, the organization hopes he will soon evolve into Haskins' left tackle. If Charles decided to stay for his senior season at LSU, head coach Ed Orgeron believes he could have ended up being a first- or second-round pick. He also has the versatility to play on the inside, so Washington may not rush him into the left tackle role right away. Like Christian, Timon Parris is another player that has been on Washington's roster for multiple years, but he may be the long shot to win the left tackle job.
3. Running back/receiving back
Candidates: Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love, Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic
If there is one position where Washington appears to have plenty of talent, it's at running back. It will be interesting to see how Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice split up their touches, but it will be even more intriguing to see who takes over Chris Thompson's role as the receiving back and who will be able to keep a spot on the roster. Rivera is very excited for second-year back Bryce Love, but it remains to be seen how he will fit into this rotation. Could he surpass Peterson or Guice if the injury bug strikes or take over as the receiving back? He only caught 49 passes in four years at Stanford.
Peyton Barber appears to be in the same boat at Love since he wasn't much of a receiving back during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and J.D. McKissic has never really been a primary option on offense. If I had to predict what will happen regarding the running back position, I say Washington keeps either four backs and cuts Barber and McKissic, or Rivera cuts just one of the two since Gibson may spend a decent amount of time at receiver. We will talk a little more about him in the next section. Overall, this should be a great battle to watch.
4. Slot receiver
Candidates: Steven Sims, Trey Quinn, Antonio Gibson
Terry McLaurin will get some time in the slot again this season, but who will serve as the primary slot receiver? Steven Sims may be the favorite. Originally undrafted out of Kansas, Washington took a flier on the small speedster, and it paid dividends. During his collegiate career, Sims was known for his versatility, quickness and ability to make defenders miss. Not many thought those skills would transfer to the next level, but as he began to receive touches, it became hard to take your eyes off of him. In his rookie season, Sims caught 34 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns, but he really blew up towards the end of the season.
Washington also has Trey Quinn, but he has only played in 15 games in two years due to injuries. Still, he has caught 55 percent of the passes thrown in his direction and will be in the mix. Gibson is a rookie gadget player that will certainly get his touches somewhere in the offense. In two seasons at Memphis, he caught 44 passes for 834 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 369 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries. In his senior season, he returned 23 kicks for 645 yards and one touchdown -- averaging 28 yards per return. What's intriguing about Gibson is that he's a big-play weapon who could play running back or wide receiver. Redskins vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith told reporters that he was a "Swiss army knife," which is exactly how Smith described McLaurin after drafting him in the third round last year.
It's possible that Rivera sees Gibson as a Christian McCaffrey type of player -- someone who can make a major impact on both the ground and through the air.
"He's shown some position flexibility playing in the slot, then he shows position flexibility playing in the backfield," Rivera said. "[Memphis] ran some wildcat with him behind the center taking direct snaps. This is a very versatile, young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute."
Candidates: Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith
The quarterback position will be an interesting situation to watch as we move forward into the regular season. Before fans get too worked up -- yes, this appears to be Haskins' job to lose. He's done everything you would want a starting quarterback to do during his first offseason. The former No. 15 overall pick has totally transformed his body and has said that he has felt a "new sense of urgency" entering year two. Kyle Allen was brought in by Rivera because he "knows the system" and will push Haskins to see if he can handle the competition. This is technically a position battle, but Haskins is most definitely the favorite. Earlier this week, however, things got a lot more interesting.
Alex Smith is trying to make an NFL comeback after suffering a devastating leg injury that resulted in 17 surgeries and nearly cost him his life. He has been fully cleared for football and is expected to start camp on the active/PUP list, but Rivera certainly won't rule him out of the competition for the starting quarterback job. All he has to do is pass the football portion of his physical.
"If that happens, I think this is a guy that becomes part of our equation," Rivera said on Tuesday, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post. "That's the truth of the matter."
It really is difficult to imagine Smith will be a part of this quarterback competition, but it is a possibility.