Quarterback Mark Brunell. He wasn't signed to be a backup, despite the open competition. And everyone knows Joe Gibbs loves veteran quarterbacks. He's just more comfortable with them and, in talking to his assistants, it's clear they give Brunell an edge -- even if they don't come right out and say it. That means it's up to Brunell to make this offense click. If he comes through -- and if he has anything left in his tank -- the Redskins will flourish.
Left tackle Chris Samuels. Supporters blamed fired offensive line coach Kim Helton, and the blocking schemes, for much of Samuels' woes last season. They said Helton ignored how Samuels had excelled in the past and asked him to play differently. But Helton is gone and the scheme is line friendly. Therefore, Samuels must return to Pro Bowl form. Though he wouldn't be protecting Brunell's blind side, he's still matched up against the top pass rushers. At least if Brunell fails, or gets hurt, the Redskins have a strong second option in Patrick Ramsey. They have nothing behind Samuels.
Corner Shawn Springs. The Redskins are banking that Springs has something left and can adequately replace Champ Bailey. Springs needs to stay healthy, something he hasn't fully done the past three years. Considering Walt Harris is coming off a major injury -- and I'm not a big fan of his to begin with, especially in man coverage -- and considering Ralph Brown isn't any good, the Redskins can't afford long stretches without one of their top two corners.
Corner Fred Smoot. This is a huge year for the chatty corner. It's been fun watching him grow and he appears ready to take the next step. But, in 2003, he was rarely entrusted to cover the other team's top wideout, as he'll do more this season. Two years ago Smoot wasn't ready for that role and was routinely beaten by No. 2 receivers, sometimes No. 1's. The knock on him has been consistency, often stemming from attention to details. He's watched more film this offseason, hoping to change that.
Running back Clinton Portis. It's not his running ability that lands him on this list. Heck, Ladell Betts would probably have a solid year in this scheme. But what separates Portis is everything else. And that's what will help the Redskins just as much. He can catch passes out of the backfield -- mark him down for 40. Think of the matchup problems he'll cause a defense when lined up in the slot. And he can pick up blitzes, another huge key -- and a missing element a year ago. If Portis couldn't do these things he'd be a nice weapon. These things make him much more than that.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington. How will he handle his contract situation? Will it impact his play? Will he be angry half the time? And how will he handle being asked to rush from defensive end, something he disliked two years ago? More than any player defensively, the Redskins need him to have a big year. If he has a big year, then he's a candidate for defensive player of the year. That means double-digit sacks in this scheme. If Arrington can do that, then the Redskins have a chance to be better than an average defense. They lack the personnel up front to be that way now. And he's their one true playmaker -- safety Sean Taylor could be, but he's only a rookie so who knows? We know what Arrington is capable of doing. But he also must do what's asked, something he's rarely done in Washington.
Linebacker Marcus Washington. With no rush up front, he and Arrington must produce. We know Arrington can get numerous sacks in this role, but can Washington? He doesn't have to produce double-digit sacks like Arrington, but he must be productive. Or else the Redskins' rush will flounder. Many scouts liked this move by the Redskins based on how Washington improved with the Colts. He's adept at rushing from the backside. He must be a presence.
Linebacker Michael Barrow. With Arrington often out of position, at least in the past, the Redskins need a steady player in the middle. Barrow is that kind of guy. He won't make big plays, but he will make a bunch of little ones. I wonder about him in the locker room, however. Word in New York was that some liked him a lot and some disliked him a lot. So don't look to him for true leadership. But he is smart and he does play hard. And in this scheme, where risks are taken, you need to know that those who aren't blitzing won't freelance. Barrow will provide that comfort. Also, with a suspect line up front the Redskins needed someone who can get off blocks.
Punter Tom Tupa. Just a hunch, but the Redskins are going to have a bend-but-don't-break defense. They lack the stud up front to be anything else. So the punter must be good, forcing teams to drive a little bit longer. It was not fun watching Bryan Barker flub seemingly every key punt the past couple years. The key will be the net average -- Tupa's career average is a respectable 35.4 net. And he has a career 43.3 yard gross average. Much of the net will depend on his coverage unit, but it also hinges on his directional punting.
Receiver Taylor Jacobs. OK, the Redskins could have a good year without Jacobs doing anything. He's no better than a No. 3 wideout right now. And the Redskins' passing game could flourish without him because of Portis' pass-catching ability. But here's the thing: I worry about Laveranues Coles' foot. It bothered him most of the offseason and rest was the main prescription. No one can play through pain like Coles, but if he has to miss a few games the Redskins need a weapon. Enter Jacobs. He's bigger, which should help him off the line better, and he's fast, a nice requisite for the X spot. Maybe the Redskins could develop another Gary Clark-Art Monk-Ricky Sanders combination.
Safety Sean Taylor. The Redskins need him to be an instant force if they're to have the kind of defenes they want. They need another playmaker besides Arrington. And they need someone who can allow the corners to play various coverages. Taylor can be that guy. But he has to do it right away.
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