(SPOILER ALERT: The Redskins roster is most assuredly both deeper and better smelling than a pee-filled baby pool)
Ahhh, yes...the dog days of summer.
When every sports fan looks at his team's list of 90 men and can see Pro Bowlers--even Hall of Famers--from top to bottom. Roster depth is a funny beast. One day, you are so confident in your depth that you leap into it from the highest diving board you can find. Other days, you wouldn't jump from the curb.
Allow me to perform the summer's first Triple Lindy into what I feel is one of the deepest rosters the Washington Redskins have had in years. It is not just the plentiful supply of warm bodies that makes for quality depth. Each position is different. Some, in particular, are far more important to be deep at than others. The Washington Redskins enjoy quality depth at some of those key positions, making them just a little bit sneaky heading into the 2014 season.
Pat Kirwan posed a list of questions yesterday aimed at proving whether a team has proper depth or not. According to both him and I, the Redskins had enough answers to be considered among the top seven clubs in the league. I am going Pass/Fail on these today, but I am sure there is plenty of gray area for us to debate!
The first and most important position to have a quality backup waiting is at the quarterback spot. In Kirk Cousins, the Redskins have a player who has been groomed to be ready if and when Robert Griffin III gets hurt. You all know how much I love having Cousins as our backup, but his play late last season was a bit of a departure from the performance he dropped on us his rookie year, when he gave our playoff hopes a major assist. Still, looking around the league, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a very long list of teams who have a better quarterback situation. Hell, looking at a list of former backups in D.C. makes Captain Kirk look like a world-beater.
Backup quarterback: Pass
The next one on the list is a tough one: swing offensive tackle. Most teams are ecstatic if they can find two above average tackles to start, much less have one in reserve. On one hand, having a guy who can come off the bench and play either side is pretty big. On the other hand, just having a guy on the bench at all who can come in and not get your quarterback killed is a benefit. The Redskins look like they have more than just two offensive tackles, but whether or not they are truly "swing" guys is...murky. If Trent Williams is healthy, he is our left tackle. If he is not, things get interesting. Morgan Moses, Tyler Polumbus and Tom Compton would be our options. That sounds deep, but only Polumbus has a ton of game experience, and we would be employing a great deal of hope that either Compton or Moses could hold the other side of the line down. I think this position is a great example of our team being better off than we have been in the past, but I am just not sure the drop-off in play without Trent wouldn't severely hurt us.
Swing offensive tackle: Fail (wanted to give an "Incomplete" mark, but thought it to be a cop-out...we have better depth than we have had, but we don't know what Moses can do yet)
How about interior linemen? Do we have a guy who can come off the bench and play either guard or center? I think we might be better situated here than at swing tackle. Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis are going to be fighting for a spot along with the rookie Spencer Long and the veteran Chris Chester. Considering our starting center was our starting guard last year, we are already showing signs of flexibility. We are being told that a number of our backup guards can also line up at center, most notably Mike McGlynn and the aforementioned LeRibeus. You could argue that we are going to cut at least one interior offensive lineman who will likely be starting in the league somewhere else this season.
Interior offensive lineman: Pass
Having a quality second running back in today's NFL is no longer a luxury. It is a must. You are all right to accuse me of being quick to call rookies "quality backups" from time to time. Roy Helu is a player I have been high on since we brought him in. In addition to breaking the single-game reception record for a Redskins player (John Beck must be terrible to play against in Madden), Helu has also rushed for over 100 yards three times in a game (granted, all in 2011). I feel like I see Helu for what he is much more clearly these days: a very good second-string running back. God forbid Alfred Morris gets hurt, but if he does, a healthy Roy Helu still allows the Redskins to run their offense. (He might allow Gruden to open things up even more in that scenario, but if Morris is healthy, he is our guy!)
Backup running back: Pass
My, how the tight end position has changed even in just the last ten years. If you don't have at least one tight end who more closely resembles a wide receiver, you are likely to be way behind the eight ball. In Jordan Reed--assuming he is fully healthy--the Redskins have that kind of player. Behind him, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul provide...soundness. Logan is a dependable blocker, and when he releases into his patterns, NOBODY seems to ever care, so he ends up wide open and makes huge catches for us. Niles is a converted wide receiver, so we know he has decent hands, but he has had to work on his blocking. I am giving us a passing grade here, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this team look to bring in another athlete like Reed in the 2nd or 3rd round of the draft next year.
Second tight end: Pass
On to a position that the Redskins are widely considered to be at the top of the league at: wide receiver. The question is if our third wide receiver could step up and lock down a spot in two-WR sets, and the answer is yes. No need to spend much time here. Andre Roberts is the guy I would point to for this answer, but Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson are all guys who couls step up if we needed them to do so.
Third wide receiver: Pass
On the defensive side of the ball, do the Redskins have a designated pass-rush specialist that can play more than just on late passing downs? I feel like this is a place where I am likely to overestimate what we have. I think that between Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and Rob Jackson, the Redskins are able to put a guy on the field whose only job is to get to the quarterback. I think they are capable of employing that on any down and distance, and so I am going to give us a pass here, but it is probably also true that we don't yet know what Trent Murphy will do, and Rob Jackson is not getting any younger. (Sorry, Rob!)
Designated pass-rushing specialist: Pass
Could the third defensive tackle play the full game if he had to? Depending on whose depth chart you place the most stock, this player appears to be one of our favorites here at Hogs Haven: Chris Baker. Stephen Bowen, Chris Nield and Kedric Golston are also in the mix, but Chris Baker slid into the starting 3-4 end spot for the final three games last season after serving as the primary backup at nose tackle.
Third defensive tackle: Pass
Lots of good news so far! As we make our way into the secondary, things become less rosy--at least from an objective standpoint, which I struggle with at times. Quality nickel corners are becoming as important as the starting corners in today's league. The Redskins struggled with depth in the secondary last year, or just struggled with who they had on the field period. Signing Tracy Porter could pay off, but we are also his fourth team in as many seasons. David Amerson could evolve into a quality starting cornerback, but until we see it on Sundays, the jury must remain out. I have high hopes for Bashaud Breeland and Richard Crawford, but we just don't know enough yet. Based on what we did last season, and the huge question marks that loom, I can't throw a "Pass" down here.
Nickel corner: Fail
Would it be weird if I passed us for dime corner, but failed us for nickel corner? I feel like with the group we have, whomever comes in as the fourth corner could be just a step off the nickel job. I feel so much better in my gut about our cornerback corps this year than last, but that is not saying much. Allow me to be the first to passionately disagree with this grade. Seriously, what is this guy thinking?
Dime corner: Fail
Safety, eh? I think we can all see where this one is going. I love the Ryan Clark signing. I believe that Phillip Thomas is going to be a factor this season. I feel like the addition of Tanard Jackson could also be a sneaky upgrade for us. As for Brandon Meriweather, he is likely an average, if not slightly above average, player--though it also matters who plays next to him. I am going to go against my better judgement on this one. Something tells me that this roster is a million times better off at safety than we have been (on average) for years. The tradition of Reed Doughty lives on!
Third safety: Pass
I still can't believe I gave our safety depth a passing mark. But we move on...to special teams. Does our roster have a guy on it that can handle both kick return and punt return duties as well as serve as a position player on offense or defense? That answer is a huge YES. I will lead off with Andre Roberts. He looks to be the guy in line to vie for full-time return duties and we all know he can start at wide receiver as well. This question speaks to full-time return duties, but the good news for the Redskins is that in addition to Roberts, we have a few guys on this roster who can be very exciting in the return game.
Return specialist: Pass
Staying with special teams, do the Redskins have a linebacker who leads us on special teams that can also step in and play inside linebacker if needed? Answering this makes me a little sick, as the name Lorenzo Alexander bounces through my head and heart. Maybe Keenan Robinson becomes this guy. Maybe Akeem Jordan is this guy. The whole point about not knowing if you have that guy is that it likely means you don't have that guy.
Special teams linebacker: Fail
In summary, I gave my own team (suspect to many, I am sure) nine passing grades and four failing grades. I tried to be objective, but there are surely gaps in my reasoning that some will drive an 18-wheeler through. I feel like this shows that we are indeed among the top teams in the league from a depth perspective. It only takes a cursory look at how poorly we have stacked up by these same measures in recent years to see that...
...yes, the Washington Redskins have slowly and steadily improved the entire roster from the ground up. This is the kind of thing that sets up a team to have a chance for success on the biggest stage. We'll save that kind of talk for later, though. In the meantime, rest assured that we are not swimming in a pee-filled baby pool!