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When I was tasked with this week's Sprint Gamechanger post, I did the usual glance up and down the current roster to see which player jumped out at me as a "Gamechanging" addition. As I considered each of the usual suspects (Donovan McNabb, Larry Johnson/Willie Parker, Trent Williams, etc.) it occurred to me that what I was seeing up and down the roster was actually the "Gamechanger."
Along with the attitude, discipline, and legitimacy that Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan immediately bring to the Washington Redskins, competition is possibly the most important ingredient they have added to the mix. Sure, guys have competed for jobs here in the last decade. But wasn't there always a sense that certain starting positions--cough, running back, cough--were pre-determined and that true competition was lacking in the offseason?
That is certainly not the case right now. Players who have enjoyed preferential treatment in the past are now ostensibly fighting for their jobs. Mike Shanahan has insisted upon bringing in players who will push returning veterans not just for playing time, but for roster slots. At the running back position, Clinton Portis is joined by fellow Pro Bowl runners Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. No offense to Marcus Mason and Anthony Alridge, but Johnson and Parker have proven themselves to be capable of carrying the load on a weekly basis in this league and will push Portis all summer to prove he deserves to be the starter on this team. If he fails to prove that by September, you better believe Shanahan will have zero problem giving the rock to either Larry or Willie.
At the wide receiver position, the recent signings of Joey Galloway and Bobby Wade appear to add up to little more than tryouts. Not so fast. Setting Wade aside for the moment, Joey Galloway is a pro. He reportedly still has 4.3 speed, and management is familiar with what he brings to the table. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly should be taking notice, because if Galloway has a good summer, it will be their playing time that gets decreased to put Galloway opposite Santana Moss. Their grace period is over. If they are going to play and contribute this season, they will have to earn the right to do so.
Staying on offense a little longer, one of my most anticipated training camp battles will be between Mike Sellers and Dennis Morris. I have long been a fan of Big Mike, and though I was critical of him last season, I think he retains the necessary skills to be a contributor on special teams and in certain offensive sets. But this kid Morris is growing on all of us. All we asked of Shanahan and Allen in this draft was to uncover a gem in the middle to late portion of the draft. Specifically, we were hoping Shanny would unearth a running back from deep in the draft to emerge onto the scene. Morris is not a running back, but could line up in the backfield. He is strong, violent at the point of attack, and has above average hands. In my opinion, his name is one we could become very familiar with rather quickly in August.
On the defensive side of the ball, players like Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels will be battling within a group of defensive linemen to make the opening day squad. Phillip Buchanon looks like he is putting his best foot forward and if he is able to push guys like Carlos Rogers, great--but his ability to light a fire under guys like Kevin Barnes and Justin Tryon will be integral in the shaping of our secondary this season.
Up and down the roster, starting spots will be legitimately up for grabs this summer. Backup jobs will also be hotly contested, with returning players like Colt Brennan, Marko Mitchell, and Chad Rinehart expected to face stiff competition for the right to be called 2nd- and 3rd-stringers.
Shanahan's insistence that competition--legitimate competition--takes place this offseason is a gamechanger for this franchise and will be largely responsible for any success it enjoys in 2010.