While training camp battles in the secondary and among a trio of running backs figure to receive much of the spotlight in the coming weeks, theres another competition that promises plenty of intrigue: kicker.The Redskins signed veteran Neil Rackers in April to compete with incumbent Graham Gano, who was 29th in the NFL in accuracy last season (75.6 percent), a year after ranking 30th (68.6 percent).On Friday, Coach Mike Shanahan said the job is up for grabs.Right from the start, both kickers know they have an opportunity to make this football team, Shanahan said. This is the way its supposed to be.Ganos unimpressive numbers in 2011 were no doubt affected by the five attempts that were blocked. Although it could be argued the breakdowns were caused by blocking breakdowns, not the kicker, Shanahan apparently was concerned enough to bring in Rackers, who was not re-signed by the Texans after making 32 of 38 attempts (84.2-percent) last season.Rackers, 35, said a miscommunication between his former agent and the Texans during contract negotiations contributed to a departure he described as unexpected.They threw out a number evidently and my agent threw out an astronomical number so they just decided, Hey, were going to go in another direction, he said. Thats business.Gano is 10 years younger than Rackers and boasts a more powerful leg. But hes connected on 73.8 percent of his attempts in three seasons with the Redskins, while Rackers has made 80-percent of his kicks in a 12 season career thats made stops in Cincinnati, Arizona and Houston. Three times, in fact, Rackers has made 90 percent or more of his kicks, including the 2005 season in Arizona, where he made 40 of 42 attempts.I liked what they had to say, Rackers said of his discussions with the Redskins prior to signing a one-year deal. I like the idea of NFC East football. Its real football. I think its a team thats got an opportunity to do some special things.Ive been on two teams that no one assumed would do anything the Texas and Cardinals, the St. Louis native added. The Texans went to the playoffs for the first time and the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl. I see a lot of similarities between the Redskins and those teams.
Everybody wants to see what first-round rookie WR Josh Doctson can do when out on the field with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins first-team offense - but they were forced to wait on Wednesday. Washington decided to keep their prized rookie off to the side working with trainers while the team took part in individual and team drills.
"Just kind of Achilles got rolled up on, and I’m just taking it easy," Doctson said after the OTA session. "It happened back in minicamp, so I’m just trying to take it easy for the day. I’ll be back out there tomorrow."
'Skins coach Jay Gruden echoed Doctson's comments, saying the team was using precaution with the rookie.
"Sore Achilles," the coach said of Doctson. "We're just trying to be smart with him. We don't want it to reoccur."
While Doctson battled a broken wrist last November in college, the Achilles injury is new, though both coach and player did not seemed alarmed.
DeSean Jackson also missed Wednesday's practice session, leaving the Redskins WR group down two of their most explosive players.
"I’ll go tomorrow," Doctson said. "Just a small tweak."
As for the missed OTA session, the rookie still tried to absorb as much as he could.
"I’m trying to learn, take mental reps. Everything’s going pretty easy right now, learning from the older guys and just watching them," he said. "I’m not happy I ain’t get to practice today, but I understand I gotta take it easy."
DeSean Jackson missed Wednesday's OTA session at Redskins Park, though Jay Gruden said he expects his WR to attend, eventually.
"He will probably show up here, maybe next week, maybe whenever," Gruden said.
Throughout Jackson's tenure, he's had a spotty record of attending voluntary workouts and practices, though he did attend a workout earlier this month.
"He’s been here. He’s popped in, had a cup of coffee," Gruden said with a laugh.
It's important to remember that the sessions Jackson has missed are not mandatory, though his contract contains a $500,000 bonus if he attends 90 percent of workouts.
"Last time I looked up the word voluntary, it's his choice," Gruden said. "He knows what type of shape he needs to come in. He'll be ready to go."
During the OTA session, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense looked choppy, and new Redskins cornerback Josh Norman declared the 11-on-11 drills a win for the defense. Cousins also said that he is using this time - his first offseason as the undisputed starter - to sync timing with his receivers.
With rookie WR Josh Doctson also not taking part in team drills due to a sore Achilles, the Redskins receiver group - considered by many to be the strongest position group on the team - was down two of its most explosive talents.
Although it’s a little early in the offseason to handicap position battles, it’s definitely worth noting that guard Spencer Long has also been getting some work at center.
“Getting more and more comfortable,” Long told me on Monday at the Redskins charity golf tournament. “Obviously, I’d be lying if I told you I was as comfortable [at center] as I was at guard, but that comes with time. The more practice I get at it, the better I’ll be. I’ve been working at it daily.”
“It’s something that I’m definitely prepared to do if I’m asked,” the 25-year-old added. “It’s something I’ll continue to work at.”
What does it mean? That’s unclear…for now.
Starter Kory Lichtensteiger along with backups Josh LeRibeus and Austin Reiter are the three centers currently listed on the Redskins’ roster.
Long, meantime, made 14 starts in 2015 at left guard after replacing Shawn Lauvao, who was playing well when he went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 3. Lauvao, though, is expected to return at some point and, assuming that he does, it could create an opportunity to reshuffle the line.
But that doesn’t mean it is going to happen. Lichtensteiger is by far the most experienced center on the team. It’s also important to point out how quickly Jay Gruden reinstalled Lichtensteiger as the starter last January after he missed most of the season with a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Long, on the other hand, is more than five years younger and has a big size advantage but has played in only 18 games, all as a guard.
On Wednesday, the Redskins will open practice to reporters for the first time this spring, giving us a better picture of the pecking order at a number of positions, including those along the O-line.
We’ll also get a better feel for exactly how much work Long is getting at center—and how much progress he's made.
“You’re the guy that has to be orchestrating everything up there,” Long said, asked about playing center vs. guard. “While making the calls, you have to focus on your snaps, too. ...You have to have a certain poise, to make the right calls confidently and also get the snap off when you’re exhausted. It’s just a different position; you’re at the head of it.”