The Washington Redskins thought they were going to have a three-headed monster of pass rushers in 2016. Then linebacker Junior Galette tore his Achilles tendon while working out prior to training camp.
Immediately, outsiders pondered the possibility of Washington adding a veteran presence, like defensive end Dwight Freeney, to fill Galette's shoes. But that doesn't seem to be the plan for now. Instead, the Redskins will strive to develop and improve from within.
"We are going to look at our young guys here in the building that we’re excited about," head coach Jay Gruden said prior to the start of training camp. "We still have some good pass rushers sitting here and they are going to have to produce."
Originally, it was predicted that linebackers Houston Bates, Willie Jefferson, Lynden Trail and others would head to camp to fight for one roster spot. With Galette's injury, it seems a second job has opened.
Bates received some game experience last year and possesses good strength. Trail stands at 6-foot-7 and uses his athletic frame to his advantage while Jefferson created havoc at Stephen F. Austin. This will be a camp battle to watch.
But Washington isn't testing its depth on defense only. It's taking the same approach on the other side of the ball.
It is popular belief that the Redskins need a veteran running back who can play around 20 snaps per game to assist a ground attack that, behind starter Matt Jones, has only 19 games of NFL experience -- all of which belongs to Chris Thompson. But Gruden is confident that his rookie rushers are up to the task.
"Obviously, Mack Brown we’ve had last year on the practice squad," Gruden said. "Robert Kelley is the rookie free agent we picked up. (Seventh-round rookie) Keith Marshall we’re excited about. We have some guys in the building we’re going to look at."
Of course, the Redskins are still preparing for a day when outside help becomes imperative. But they will bet on themselves before worrying about that.
"If it doesn't work out, we’re always looking," Gruden said. "Every position, [general manager Scot McCloughan] and the scouting staff have their eyeballs across the league and who is available. But hopefully we don’t need to go that route."
Despite a perceived lack of depth at outside linebacker and running back, the Redskins' restraint from chasing the free agent market and their willingness to trust the in-house options -- things that may not have happened five years ago -- are signs of growth for this franchise.
It starts with McCloughan and his scouts identifying the players the team needs and ends with Gruden and his coaches getting them to reach their potential.
It may not be apparent to the rest of the country just yet, but if the likes of Trail and Kelley become household names, the Burgundy and Gold will get a lot of praise for their ability to recognize and produce talent.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilDalal96.
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