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Analyzing Washington's Biggest Position Battles During Training Camp

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During a typical offseason, the Washington Football Team's coaching staff would have a solid understanding of where it stands entering training camp.

There would still be a few position battles, sure, but they would have already identified strengths and weaknesses and responded accordingly.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced all franchises to conduct virtual offseason programs, there were no on-field workouts, no in-person organized team activities and no mandatory minicamp. Seven months into his new job, head coach Ron Rivera had yet to conduct a single practice.

This has resulted in more roster questions than usual, several of which Rivera addressed during a videoconference with the local media June 10. Here's who will be competing at each spot and a prediction about who will win each starting job. (NOTE: The positions are listed in the order Rivera mentioned them.)

LEFT TACKLE

Rivera's comments: "Well you hit the nail on the head right away. It's obviously going to be left tackle."

Candidates: It seems as though there will be three players vying for this spot.

The first is Geron Christian Sr., who Washington drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft. Christian was seen as a developmental prospect coming out of Louisville, but in two seasons he has barely played (he averaged 12 snaps per game in 2019).

In free agency, Washington added veteran reserve Cornelius Lucas, who started eight games over his first five NFL seasons before matching that total with the Chicago Bears a year ago. He performed well in an increased role, allowing only one sack, per STATS LLC, and giving up 12 pressures while incurring zero penalties on 507 snaps.

The team also drafted Saahdiq Charles in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Rivera said following the draft that Charles would compete on the left side of the offensive line.

Prediction: If this were a typical offseason, I think this would be Charles' job to lose.

But with training camp being the first time Charles sees the field, he may not develop quickly enough to start right away. I'd lean towards Lucas playing there in Week 1.

The Washington Football team conducts training camp at the Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, on July 31, 2020.

LEFT GUARD

Rivera's comments: "The other question for us is: where is Schweitzer and where is Martin going to fit in terms of opportunity to be a starting guard? That'll be a heck of a competition."

Candidates: The two players Rivera mentioned above.

Wes Martin, a fourth-round pick in 2019, made nine appearances as a rookie and started five games at right guard in place of the injured Brandon Scherff.

Wes Schweitzer, by far the more experienced of the two, came over from the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. The former sixth-round pick has appeared in 46 games (36 starts) since entering the league in 2016.

Prediction: After starting all 16 games in 2017, Schweitzer became a swing guard in 2018 but still started 13 games at left guard because of an early-season injury. He was also a reserve for most of last season. He'll push Martin, but I think Martin will eventually win the starting job.

TIGHT END

Rivera's comments: "Our tight end position, I like the guys that we have. I think we have good quality football players that can help us do what we want to do on the offensive side."

Candidates: Washington has seven tight ends on its roster, but three seem to be in contention for the No. 1 spot.

Jeremy Sprinkle was thrust into the starting role due to injuries early last season, but his production did not match that of a primary pass-catching tight end. He finished sixth on the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (241) while adding a touchdown.

Logan Thomas, who joined Washington via free agency, transitioned from quarterback to tight end in 2016 and is coming off his best statistical season -- 16 receptions, 173 yards, one touchdown -- as the Detroit Lions' secondary tight end.

Richard Rodgers has by far the best single-season of the trio -- he caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight scores with Green Bay in 2015 -- but he has not played much over the past two seasons because of injuries.

Prediction: Sprinkle makes sense, but I believe Thomas wins the starting job solely based on what the coaching staff has said about him. "Logan Thomas is a guy that we see some glimpses of [Greg Olsen's] type of athletic ability," Rivera said. "Pete Hoener, our tight end coach, felt very strongly about this guy's abilities, mostly because he thought he was a very smart and savvy football player, he's a tremendous athlete and he's just learning and getting the position right now."

WIDE RECEIVERS

Rivera's comments: "I want to see where our young receivers are. There is so much that has been written about Terry [McLaurin] and those young guys as to the success they had last year in terms of their development. So, where are they in that development?"

Candidates: Since McLaurin will enter training camp as the team's No. 1 receiver, let's focus on the other two starting spots.

Trey Quinn is the most experienced of this group, but 2018's Mr. Irrelevant has dealt with multiple injuries over the past two seasons. He began 2019 as the starting slot receiver and played 12 games before going on Injured Reserve with a concussion. His 178 receiving yards ranked seventh on the team.

If not for McLaurin's historic rookie campaign, the most exciting young receiver entering training camp would be 2019 undrafted rookie Steven Sims Jr. After entering the season as a kick returner, Sims replaced Quinn late in the year and flourished, catching 20 balls for 230 yards and four touchdowns over the final four games.

Antonio Gandy-Golden is likely the lone rookie wideout who will immediately contend for a starting spot. The fourth-round pick is a big, physical threat who was highly productive at Liberty.

Prediction: Kelvin Harmon and Sims joined McLaurin in the starting lineup at the end of 2019, and up until recently it seemed the trio would remain Haskins' primary receiving threats to start this season. But then Harmon suffered a torn ACL, which will sideline him for the 2020 campaign. In his absence, Sims and Gandy-Golden appear to be the frontrunners to start alongside McLaurin.

LINEBACKERS

Rivera's comments: "Defensively, you would have loved to see how the linebackers have gone [during offseason workouts.]"

Candidates: It seems as though there are five viable options for Washington's three linebacker spots.

Jon Bostic makes the most sense in the middle. The 29-year-old journeyman started there last year and finished tied for second on the team with 105 total tackles. He also made all of the defensive calls, something Rivera believes will be beneficial this season.

Cole Holcomb, a fifth-round pick in 2019, started alongside Bostic last season and also amassed 105 total tackles. Rivera highlighted Holcomb's "positional flexibility," while defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio pointed to his "speed and linebacking ability."

Thomas Davis Sr. spent eight seasons under Rivera in Carolina and has been in the league since 2005, so he'll bring substantial experience and leadership to Washington. Plus, the 37-year-old has shown he can still be productive, as he led the Los Angeles Chargers in tackles in 2019.

With five first-rounders along the defensive line, Ryan Anderson will likely work with the linebackers. The 2017 second-round pick came on strong at the end of last season, finishing with career-highs in tackles (44), quarterback hits (nine), forced fumbles (five) and sacks (four).

Reuben Foster, the 31st overall pick in 2017, missed all of last season after suffering a serious knee injury during OTAs. When healthy, Foster is a potential playmaker at weakside linebacker, but his health still remains a question more than a year after the injury. (He's currently on the Physically Unable To Perform List.)

Prediction: Bostic seems like a lock to play middle linebacker, especially since there will hardly be any time to practice before the season starts. Initially, I think Holcomb and Davis will start on the strongside and weakside, respectively. But if Anderson builds on his late-season surge and Foster fully recovers, both players could find their way into the starting lineup.

RUNNING BACK

Rivera's comments: "The running back situation obviously," Rivera said in June. "I had an opportunity to look out the window and see Derrius Guice the other day working out in his rehab. It's been kind of cool to watch him. I'm looking forward to seeing Adrian [Peterson] being young as ever."

Candidates: There are several.

Adrian Peterson keeps getting older, yet he continues to produce. The 35-year-old and future Hall of Famer has led Washington in rushing in each of the past two seasons.

Derrius Guice has a career average of 5.8 yards per attempt and has showed his explosiveness on several occasions. The main issue is that he's played five games over his first two NFL seasons.

Brought in during free agency, J.D. McKissic is a former wide receiver with quality pass-catching skills out of the backfield, in the slot or split out wide.

Bryce Love missed all of his rookie campaign recovering from a torn ACL suffered in college, but he's a former Heisman Trophy finalist who could have been a first-round pick if he declared for the NFL draft in 2018.

Antonio Gibson, a third-round rookie, is a home-run threat as both a running back and a wide receiver.

Prediction: Assuming everyone begins the season at full strength, I imagine Peterson and Guice will split carries with McKissic serving as the third-round back and Gibson being used in all sorts of different plays and formations. Love's role is yet to be determined, but he does have exciting upside.

QUARTERBACK

Rivera's comments: "Really excited about the quarterback position. I think we're going to have a heck of a battle. It's going to be a very interesting thing to watch and obviously where Alex [Smith] is as well."

Candidates: Two healthy quarterbacks have a realistic chance of winning the starting job.

Dwayne Haskins Jr., the No. 15 overall pick in 2019, is seen as the future of the franchise after a strong finish to his rookie campaign. Rivera has already said that Washington will enter training camp believing Haskins is the starter.

Kyle Allen is not as heralded as Haskins, but he played for Rivera and worked closely with offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Carolina. He started 12 games in place of the injured Cam Newton in 2019.

Alex Smith, meanwhile, continues to recover from the life-threatening leg injury he suffered in 2018. He was recently cleared by his surgical team for football activity -- a huge step in his road back to the field -- and he begins this season on the Physically Unable To Perform List.

Prediction: Rivera said this will be a "pure competition," but based on what Haskins has shown this offseason, I believe he retains the starting job.

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