As we count down to the first game of the Redskins season, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to be looking at some of the big questions facing the team and attempting to look into their crystal balls and answer them.
Question 16: Can Trent Williams go from being a good left tackle to being a great one?
The background: Williams was Mike Shanahans first draft pick with the Redskins, the fourth overall selection in the 2010 draft. He has tremendous athletic ability for a man his size (6-5, 328) and he is a perfect fit for the zone-blocking scheme. When he is focused he can dominate the man across from him. Last year he was starting to round into form as a top left tackle and then the four-game substance abuse suspension hit. This year, he is the highest-paid player on the team with a salary of 11 million. Can he stay focused and continue to progress on the upward path he was on last year? Or will he coast on a contract that pays him 34 million over the next four years and be happy to be average?
Tandler: Williams knows that he is under the microscope. Both Mike and Kyle Shanahan have spoken repeatedly about the need for Williams to step up and be the player he is capable of being. He is tasked with guarding the blind side of the franchise, Robert Griffin III. With the array of top pass rushers the Redskins face in the division and in many of their other games, Williams has a great responsibility. The good thing is that, unlike a year ago, he is not talking about taking the game more seriously; he is doing it. Williams has been the star of training camp so far and his willingness to tough it out for a half against the Bears and Julius Peppers with a bone bruise in his foot shows a new level of commitment and maturity. As long as he stays quiet and continues to get it done, he should continue to progress towards becoming one of the best in the business.
El-Bashir: Williams hasnt been the best offensive lineman in training camp. Until he suffered a bruised bone in his left foot, the 6 foot 5, 328-pound left tackle had been the best player at Redskins Park during the first two weeks of practice. At 24, the former first round pick finally seems to get it after nearly losing everything to a four-game drug suspension last season.
Another slipup would result a year-long ban and the possible end to a promising career -- and it seems to have scared him straight. This, no doubt, is a critical season for Williams, and thus far hes approaching it as such. But the question is whether he can blossom into an elite tackle on par with Clevelands Joe Thomas or the New York Jets DBrickashaw Ferguson. Like most things when it comes to Williams, thats entirely up to whether he feels like doing it.
20 questions in 20 days
20 Aug.20Will Jammal Brown play this year?
19 Aug.21Will Chris Cooley make the team?
18 Aug. 22Can Brandon Meriweather get he job done at safety?
17 YesterdayIs Garon a No. 1 receiver?
16 TodayCan Trent Williams got from good to great?
15 TomorrowCan DeAngelo Hall be a defensive playmaker?
14 SundayCan Santana Moss regain his old form?
When Terrance Knighton signed with the Patriots this offseason, word was the Redskins tried to talk him into staying in Washington up until the last minute. The man affectionately known as "Pot Roast" gave the 'Skins some good play at nose tackle in 2015, and the team and fans liked Knighton. But the big man with 96 career starts in seven years as a pro chose to go home to New England.
The Redskins, however, may get the chance to bring back Knighton after all.
Knighton has dealt with weight issues throughout his NFL career as well as debilating cluster headaches that forced him to miss games and practice time. In 2015, Knighton played well at times for the Redskins, but was not the high-impact player that he demonstrated with the Broncos in 2014. With the Redskins, Pro Football Focus rated Knighton at +5.7, good, but down significantly from his +18.7 in Denver in 2014.
MORE REDSKINS: WHO WILL MAKE THE 53-MAN ROSTER?
That said, Knighton would likely be a welcome addition for Washington. The team lacks a true nose tackle, and at 6-foot-2 and 300 lbs., Knighton fits the role well. Further, Knighton knows the players - especially his best friend from childhood Chris Baker - the coaches and the scheme.
Stopping the run cold be a problem for Washington this fall, and while Pot Roast will not change that on his own, he can be a good piece of a defensive line rotation. That assumes, though, that Knighton is in shape and ready to play. Pro Football Focus shows that Knighton has played 36 snaps this preseason, though he did not play New England's last preseason game against the Panthers.
The process of acquiring Bryan Stork has not been easy. After agreeing to a trade with New England for a conditional seventh-round pick, the former Patriots center was unsure if he wanted to be traded to the Redskins. Saturday, Stork relented, and said he looked forward to coming to Washington.
His stay won't last long. Chris Cooley reported the news first.
Stork's failed physical means the Redskins will not get the boost to their interior offensive line the club hoped for when they made the trade for the former Florida State center. Kory Lichtensteiger had a rough game Friday night in a win over the Bills, and while the veteran center likely would have retained his starting spot even with Stork on the team, GM Scot McCloughan preaches competition at every position. Stork's arrival would have brought that. Good news for Washington is that the team will get back their draft pick.
MORE REDSKINS: WHO WILL MAKE THE 53-MAN ROSTER?
For Stork, this could signal the end of the line. With four concussions in two seasons and now a failed physical, it makes sense why the 25-year-old was so seriously contemplating retirement after just two seasons in the league.
As a rookie in 2014, Stork started 11 games and played in a Super Bowl. The 2015 season Stork was limited to just six starts. The trend for 2016 looks like even less.
With running back Keith Marshall out for at least three weeks after suffering a sprained elbow and the roster cut looming, the Redskins’ coaches are going to have some tough decisions to make. Marshall’s hopes of making the team’s 53-man roster may fall victim to bad timing.
All NFL rosters must be cut to 53 players by Saturday. Matt Jones and Chris Thompson are locks to be two of the running backs. It looks like Robert Kelley, who took advantage of the opportunity that he had when Marshall went out against the Bills, is a strong favorite to claim a third spot.
Will the Redskins carry a fourth running back? If they do, will it be Marshall? That would be tough to do. With the season opener against the Steelers coming up two weeks from today they would have to carry an injured running back for at least the first two regular season games and possibly longer depending on the results of the reevaluation. With Jones recovering from an AC joint sprain, Thompson best suited to the third down role, and Kelley unproven the Redskins would need someone who could be of more immediate help. That means perhaps keeping Mack Brown on the roster, or picking up a back on waivers from another team.
And beyond the three-week window, the Redskins have to be concerned about Marshall’s durability. He lasted until the seventh round in the draft due to his difficulties staying on the field when he was at Georgia. Do the Redskins want to stretch their roster numbers to keep him on when his history says that he could end up out with another injury soon after that?
If Marshall had been stellar in practice or if he had been a preseason star (he wasn’t, with 16 carries for 28 yards, an average of 1.8 yards/carry) it might be a more difficult decision. But he wasn’t, so it’s hard to see the Redskins jumping through hoops to keep him around for the 2016 season.
However, they may want to keep him for future seasons. Sometimes in an NFL environment players learn how to take better care of their bodies and how to avoid getting injured. Perhaps they will put Marshall on injured reserve, have him spend the season and the 2017 offseason around the facility, and let him give it a go next year.