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The 53: Stability at running back

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The 53: Stability at running back

The Redskins will report to training camp on July 25. Over the next five weeks they will undergo the process of cutting their 90-man roster down to 53. Which players will get those coveted spots and which will join the ranks of the unemployed? Over the next couple of weeks well go through position by position and try to predict what decisions Mike Shanahan and company will make.The first area we will look at is running back, including fullback.There are eight running backs on the roster, the Redskins will keep four.In: Roy Helu Jr., Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, Darrell Young
Out: Tristan Davis, Alfred Morris, Antwon Bailey, Lennon CreerChanges from 2011: Hightower back from injured reserve, Ryan Torain released just prior to the end of last seasonBubble watch: Morris, a sixth-round pick, has a chance if he can learn to play fullback as well as halfback. However, there appears to be no room for him. His best shot is to wind up on the practice squad and wait to be called up if someone gets hurt.BreakdownThis should be one of the most stable units on the team. All four of those who are expected to make it were with the team a year ago. Royster came off of the practice squad in Week 12 and Hightower was the starter in five of the first six games before winding up on IR.It seems like Helu is penciled in as the starter right now, given how he finished up 2011, but its a very light pencil. Nobody would be surprised in the least if Hightower lined up for the first snap in New Orleans. During the course of the year, Royster could get his share of starts as well.The starter could be the hot hand, he could be the last man standing. Hightower is coming off of a knee injury and Helu was banged up the last few games of last year after carrying the load for a month.Davis, Bailey, and Creer have talent but the numbers are stacked against them. Fortunately, to coaches are unlikely to work the front-line players too much during preseason games so those three and Morris should get plenty of carries. That will give them to get a shot at the practice squad or to get a look by another team.

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Pressure Points: Redskins need bounce back from Preston Smith

Pressure Points: Redskins need bounce back from Preston Smith

In the weeks leading up to training camp, Redskins Insider JP Finlay will look at specific people facing increased pressure for the 2017 season. 

Pressure Point: Redskins OLB Preston Smith

Heat is on: Smith impressed as a rookie, finishing the 2015 season with eight sacks and a very strong second half of the season. Throughout 2016 training camp in Richmond, Smith's blend of speed, athleticism and size flashed and he looked poised for a double-digit, breakout sophomore NFL season. 

Only it didn't happen.

At times, Smith showed how great he can be, particularly in a November win over the Vikings. In that game, Smith logged two sacks and made an incredible, leaping interception of Sam Bradford, tipping the ball up to himself before making the grab. After that game, Washington coach Jay Gruden chided Smith saying the team needs that kind of play every week. 

For the season though, Smith mustered just three other sacks, finishing with five on the year. If you watched the Redskins week after week last season, Smith came close on a number of other quarterbacks. For whatever reason, however, he couldn't get guys down.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

Turning forward to the 2017 season, Smith will need to produce more. 

After two mediocre seasons, Trent Murphy burst out for a nine-sack campaign in 2016. Murphy will serve a four-game suspension to start 2017, but then he will be back on the field. 

There will also be increased competition from 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson out of Alabama. Last season for the Crimson Tide, Anderson logged 8.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. And before we forget, Junior Galette looks to return to the field for the first time in two seasons. Staying healthy will be a test for Galette, but if he does, the snaps at outside linebacker will grow even more in demand. 

Ryan Kerrigan is a lock to start, play the most snaps, and get double-digit sacks. After his rookie year, it looked like Smith would be the natural complement to Kerrigan. After his second season, that is no certainty. 

Smith has all the ability for a big year in 2017. If he doesn't perform, the Redskins have options. The pressure is on. 

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Redskins 2017 depth chart preview: Outside linebacker

Redskins 2017 depth chart preview: Outside linebacker

Over the next few weeks, Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ 2017 depth chart as the team enjoys some R&R ahead of training camp. Some positions are easy to handicap. Others have moving parts and, thus, are more complex. So, who’s in? And who’s in trouble?

Up today…

Position: Outside linebacker

On the roster: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Trent Murphy, Junior Galette, Ryan Anderson, Houston Bates, Lynden Trail

Locks: Kerrigan, Smith, Murphy, Galette, Anderson

Murphy is here with an asterisk. He will not be on the 53-man roster to start the season as he will have to serve a four-game suspension before he plays. The 2014 second-round pick broke out with nine sacks and the suspension is an unfortunate setback in his contract year.

Kerrigan is the most consistent player on the defense. You can pencil him in for 16 starts and 11 sacks right now.

RELATED: 3 Redskins who are up, 3 down

What can you pencil in for Smith? If you know, tell Greg Manusky and company, I’m sure they would like to find out. If he breaks out, it could be for 15 sacks or more plus several forced fumbles and a couple of interceptions. If he remains inconsistent he could end up being a part-time player.

They may not know what they are going to get out of Smith but the real mystery man is Galette. Can he stay healthy and get on the field after zero snaps in two seasons under contract with Washington? And if he’s healthy, can he perform to the level that he did in his final two years with the Saints when he posted 12 and 10 sacks?

Anderson will learn on the job. It’s best to keep expectations low; let’s hold off on the “bust” label if he ends the season with, say, four sacks. He was drafted with 2018 in mind as Murphy and Galette both will be unrestricted free agents.

On the bubble: Bates, Trail

If not for Murphy’s suspension, these two would be more in the long shots category. But a door is open for one of them to possibly make the roster as a placeholder for Murphy. And once you’re on the roster you have a strong chance of staying.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins 53-man roster projection, defense

Bates was the fourth outside linebacker last year. He played only 24 snaps on defense plus a few on offense lined up as a short-yardage fullback. A torn ACL ended his season in Week 14 but he appears to be on track to be ready for training camp.

Trail is very large (6-7, 270) and still very raw after spending time on the practice squad in 2015 and 2016. His ticket to the roster might be special teams; opponents will be very reluctant to block the massive Trail running downfield on kick coverage.

Redskins 2017 depth chart previews: Offensive tackle | Wide receiver | Interior O-line | Defensive line  

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.