Coming off a resurgent campaign in which the Redskins claimed their first division title in over a decade, there is plenty of optimism surrounding the 2013 ball club. To surpass last year's successes, Washington will count on several key pieces that have contributed in the past, but will be counted on step up their game this fall.
1. Brian Orakpo
Four years ago, the Redskins selected Texas' Brian Orakpo with hopes that he could breathe life into a listless Redskins pass rush. He didn't disappoint through his first three seasons, tallying 28.5 sacks and six forced fumbles en route to two Pro Bowl berths.
Though his achievement weren't staggeringly impressive, mind you he was learning a new position (played exclusively defensive end in college), with a underwhelming defensive scheme at times (Greg Blache's blitz packages were about as exotic and interesting as a white bread sandwich ) and didn't have a complimentary player applying pressure on the other side (Ryan Kerrigan wasn't drafted until 2011).
Hopes for a breakout season were dashed two weeks into the regular season after tearing his pectoral muscle, the second straight year he sustained that injury.
Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, the time is now for Orakpo to earn an extension and prove he among the NFL's elite pass rushers. He is healthy, he has a full compliment of play makers around him and has the big payday carrot dangling in front of him as motivation.
2. Roy Helu Jr.
Yards isn't the only thing Alfred Morris racked up in 2012. He also accumulated a lot of carries, 335 in the regular season alone to be exact. The Redskins running back with the second most was Evan Royster with just 23. Needless to say the Skins could use Roy Helu Jr., not only as a change of pace back, but also to spell Morris and preserve his body late in games.
The third-year pro from Nebraska has proven his ability in spot duty over the past two seasons. He is dynamic on the edges and possesses great speed. However, he has also been banged up, missing several games in 2011 and missing all but three games in 2012. Helu's talent makes him a rare commodity, but Shanahan has proven throughout his coaching tenure that he can, and will, replace running backs like its a bodily function. Also season on the shelf may cost Helu his roster spot. He must stay healthy and contribute, or he may find himself looking for work elsewhere.
3. Tyler Polumbus
The writing is certainly on the wall for Tyler Polumbus. The NFL is a 'what have you done for me lately,' business. In his particular case, the answer, evidently, is 'not enough'.
The Redskins spent the offseason trying to replace him, signing Jeremy Trueblood from Tampa Bay and even signing Tony Pashos out of retirement. Also waiting in the wings is 2011 draft pick Tom Compton.
Continuity is on Polumbus' side. Keeping the same starting five lineman year to year is something the Redskins rarely achieved in the past. But the 28-year old was arguably the most shaky of all the starting lineup last year, especially when RGII got hurt, Kirk Cousins started and the read option wasn't an option. In order to keep his job, Polumbus must fend off the competition and prove that he deserves to stay in the starting lineup.
4. Aldrick Robinson
I think the definition of 'One-Trick Pony' has a picture of Aldrick Robinson next to it, or at least it should.
Off all the wide receivers on the Redskins roster, you could argue that Robinson has the most raw talent and ability. He has blazing speed and can run past defensive backs with regularity, as he did on two deep touchdowns last year (see below). However, Robinson's biggest detriment is the reason why you ONLY see Robinson on the field when he is going deep; the kid is a below average route runner.
Some players can get by on sheer God-given ability, as Robinson did at SMU and at times the last two seasons in the NFL. But he won't be making any impacts moving forward if he can't figure out how to run routes other than fly patterns. Defenses will figure him out and play over the top when he is on the field, rendering him useless.
By all accounts, Robinson has made strides thus far this camp. His long term future with the Redskins may've depended on it.
5. Leonard Hankerson
In my opinion, there isn't a more frustrating player on the Redskins than Leonard Hankerson.
Hank has the physical makeup of a prototypical NFL receiver. He is tall, long, has big hands and has decent speed. He is also a inadequate route runner and has Carlos Roger's-like hands. He is devastatingly inconsistent, including a huge drop in last season's playoff game versus Seattle that stalled a precious scoring opportunity. Hankerson seems to 'fight' the football; instead of effortlessly receiving a pass in his hands like most NFL receivers, he struggles reigning in the ball and seems uncomfortable with any pass away from his body. Even passes that he catches he sometimes bobbles first.
The Redskins spent a third-rounder on Hankerson two springs ago, which will probably buy him one more guaranteed season on the roster. That kind of investment can't be flushed with such haste. But Hankerson needs to work on fine-tuning several parts of his game if he plans on contributing this fall.