Question: Hey there, I look at football the way I look at real estate: location location location. Field position is key. Who will be returning punts and kickoffs this year? I thought Rock Cartwright was solid at kickoffs, though he never had the breakout speed you need to score. DeAngelo Hall should be returning punts, something he has shown he can do.
-- Jeff K.
Gary: It's still up in the air at the moment. On kickoffs, my top candidate would be wide receiver Devin Thomas, who assumed the role late last season before he was sidelined with an ankle injury. Thomas posted a 22.9-yard average on 20 kick returns last year; he had a 29.1-yard kick return average in his last year at Michigan State. On punt returns, there are several candidates, chief among them cornerback Phillip Buchanon. He has returned three punts for touchdowns during his 8-year career. Hall and Santana Moss could be in the mix, but probably not on a permaent basis. Seventh-round draft pick Terrence Austin, who finished his career at UCLA as the Bruins' all-time leader in kickoff and punt returns, should get a close look in training camp. Also, keep an eye on 5-foot-7 rookie speedster Brandon Banks, who had four kickoff returns for touchdowns as a senior at Kansas State last year.
Question: Have the Redskins established their starting cornerbacks yet, and if they have, who are they? Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall are the early favorites, but what about Justin Tryon? Will he play, and does he have a chance to start?
-- Gary L.
Gary: It's a safe bet that Rogers and Hall are the starters heading into preseason and look for Phillip Buchanon to step in as the third cornerback. Tryon could push Buchanon, though. Tryon may be height-challenged at 5-9, but he emerged as a solid cover corner last year. Maryland's Kevin Barnes is entering his second NFL season and he could push both Buchanon and Tryon for playing time as well. Barnes was the Redskins' third-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Question: I would really like to know the coaching staff's perspective about Albert Haynesworth and his prospects. I believe the guy is a potential locker room cancer and is not nearly the defensive stud he thinks he is. If we can't find anyone interested in a trade, might they just release him?
-- Tom V.
Gary: For now, the Redskins are waiting to see what kind of shape Haynesworth is in and what kind of mindset he has entering training camp. "Guys are going to be looking at him and seeing what type of shape he's in, if he's doing to do the little things the right way," Mike Shanahan told WFAN-AM radio in New York this week. "Time will tell. If he is buying in and he is in great shape, we know what type of talent he is and we know he can help our football team win." Haynesworth did not participate in the Redskins' off-season program, which does not bode well for his long-term future here. This coaching staff wants players to "buy in" to the new regime. Meantime, Haynesworth's agent has asked for a trade (according to reports on Comcast SportsNet and ESPN). I would think all options are on the table.
Question: Hey Gary, I really enjoy the Fan Mailbag, always a good read. How are the new coaches (including Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan) meshing with each other, the players and the front office?
-- Jonathan C.
Gary: Professionalism is the buzzword at Redskins Park, and led by Mike Shanahan the coaching staff is helping to set standards and the right tone with players. Communication is key. Expectations have been clearly defined by Shanahan and now players and staff move forward. The assistant coaches are a great group. In the meeting rooms and on the practice fields, they are forging bonds with players. Many of them have been in the league a long time and they already have direct and indirect connections to players.