WP:Player Position Battles

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WP:Player Position Battles

Postby Deadskins » Sat Jul 31, 2004 5:15 am

Positioning Themselves
By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2004

After a busy offseason in which Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Vice President for Football Operations Vinny Cerrato worked with Coach Joe Gibbs to rebuild the team, there are expected to be no fewer than nine new starters this season. The most scrutinized competition will be between quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey. However, there are several other significant battles, particularly at right defensive end, center and tight end.

Mark Brunell: Gibbs was attracted to Brunell, 34, mainly because of his ability to read NFL defenses, which he's developed over 11 years in the league, and experience guiding the Jacksonville Jaguars to two AFC title games. Brunell, no longer as mobile as in his younger years, remains nimble enough to scramble when necessary and has a strong arm. Brunell, who has been injury prone in recent years, lost his starting job to rookie Byron Leftwich in Jacksonville last year, but remains the ninth-highest rated quarterback in NFL history.
Patrick Ramsey: The third-year veteran was unofficially the most punished quarterback in the NFL last season, and displayed his sturdiness despite repeated blows from rushing defenders. Ramsey's best attribute may be his rifle arm -- one of the strongest in the NFL. Ramsey, 25, has the ability to make any throw, although he still has room for improvement with his touch. Ramsey, who has started 16 games in his career, missed the final five last season because of a foot injury that required surgery.

Right Defensive End
Phillip Daniels: The Redskins envision him as a sturdy run-stopper on the right side, which the team has lacked over the past few seasons. If Daniels, who can also play tackle, wins the job, he will switch to the inside on passing plays. Daniels collected nine sacks in 2001 playing for defensive coordinator Greg Blache when both were with the Chicago Bears.
Regan Upshaw: Last season, Upshaw was forced to play at left end because of Bruce Smith's presence. Upshaw never got comfortable and a knee injury didn't help the situation. Upshaw has compiled 34.5 sacks in his eight-year career.

Cory Raymer: The nine-year veteran should have the advantage if he can stay healthy, but that's a big qualifier based on past seasons. Raymer, 31, in his second stint with Washington, has a knack for reading defenses, which helps linemates.
Lennie Friedman: The 27-year-old lineman is versatile, with skills to start at guard or center. Friedman was solid late last season after replacing Larry Moore.

Tight End
Gibbs collects tight ends because of the position's importance to his offense. Gibbs has eight players to compete at H-back -- a hybrid between a fullback and tight end who often lines up in the backfield -- and pure tight end. Walter Rasby is projected to start at tight end with Fred Baxter, Robert Royal and Leonard Stephens competing in reserve. The starting H-back will be selected from among Mike Sellers, rookie Chris Cooley and Brian Kozlowski, with Sean Brewer as a backup if he makes the team. The Redskins plan to activate four tight ends on game days; most teams carry two or three on their entire roster.

The Other Positions
Offensive Line
Offensive line coach Joe Bugel, who molded the Hogs into a legendary line during the 1980s, intends to make this year's group, which he has dubbed the "Dirtbags," into a household name. Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen return at tackle. Right tackle Jansen will be in the spotlight protecting lefty Mark Brunell's blind side. Right guard Randy Thomas is one of the best at his position. Derrick Dockery is projected at left guard, but must play well to fend off Kenyatta Jones.

Running Back
Clinton Portis, a third-year veteran, will add a new dimension to a running game that languished last season. Ladell Betts, the team's second-round pick in 2002, is slated to be Portis's backup, if he stays healthy. The third back is likely to be chosen from among Rock Cartwright, Sultan McCullough and Chad Morton. Cartwright, converting from fullback after losing 20 pounds, has an edge after gaining 411 yards (3.8 average) last season. Morton is talented, with cat-like quickness, but best serves as a change-of-pace back because of a diminutive frame.

Wide Receiver
In the roster's deepest unit, Laveranues Coles leads the way after 82 catches and 1,204 yards last season. Rod Gardner, despite compiling career lows last season (59 catches, 600 yards), remains one of the best number two wideouts in the NFC. James Thrash, Darnerien McCants and Taylor Jacobs will compete for the number three spot. Thrash, in his second stint with Washington, appears to have an edge over McCants because of experience. Second-year player Cliff Russell, a speedster, adds depth.

Defensive Line
The biggest addition on the defensive line, which badly needed an upgrade, is tackle Cornelius Griffin. Brandon Noble is expected to recover from a serious knee injury that prevented him from playing last season. If Noble isn't healthy, the Redskins must rely on Joe Salave'a, rookie Norman Heuer or Jermaine Haley at nose tackle. Left end Renaldo Wynn is solid yet unspectacular.

Rookie safety Sean Taylor is expected to start at free safety, likely pushing Matt Bowen to his natural position of strong safety. But Ifeanyi Ohalete, who lacks Bowen's speed, won't give up without a battle. Shawn Springs is a formidable cornerback when healthy, though not quite as good as Champ Bailey, who was sent to Denver in the deal for Portis. The secondary has good depth, with cornerbacks Rashad Bauman, Ralph Brown and Walt Harris. Fred Smoot, playing in the final year of his contract, is looking for his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Mike Barrow and Marcus Washington join LaVar Arrington, the only holdover from last season's linebacking corps. Gibbs calls Arrington and Washington "double jeopardy" because of their ability to pressure the quarterback. Washington, who collected 18 sacks in the past four seasons with Indianapolis, moves to the strong side, allowing Arrington to switch to the weak side, which is an easier path to quarterbacks. Barrow, 35, led the NFC in tackles last season.

Special Teams
Gibbs inherits John Hall, one of the club's most reliable kickers in recent memory. Last season, Hall made 25 of 33 field goals, including 4 of 7 from more than 50 yards. The Redskins added punter Tom Tupa, Hall's former teammate with the New York Jets, to replace Bryan Barker, and re-signed long snapper Ethan Albright. Morton, the team's dangerous kick and punt returner, will get help from Thrash.

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