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How many new starters for the 2016 Redskins?

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How many new starters for the 2016 Redskins?

Even though the Redskins went 9-7 and made the playoffs last year they are not standing still in terms of personnel. There will be a number of new starters, particularly on defense. In fact, you might be surprised at how many new starters they are likely to have.

Before we dive into this, let’s look at how we’re defining “starters”. In official terms, the 11 players who are on the field for the first snap on the game on each side of the ball are the starters. But we will loosen that definition a bit so that we are talking about front line players.

For example, cornerback Justin Rogers was a starter in the season opener against the Dolphins in 2015. But after that one game he was inactive for two weeks and then waived in Week 5. Rogers is not a player most would think of as a “starter”.

On the other side of the coin, Jordan Reed played in 14 games but he only started in nine of them. I don’t think that there is any question that Reed is a front-line starter.

With that said, let’s look at the anticipated 2016 front-line players compared to 2015.

There will be two new starters on offense. Matt Jones will start at running back in place of the departed Alfred Morris and Jamison Crowder will play slot receiver replacing Andre Roberts, who was waived last month.

Both were 2015 draft picks. Crowder started six games and played 474 snaps while Jones did not have a start and played 349 snaps.

On defense there will be several new starters. Last year, Terrance Knighton started 15 games at nose tackle and Jason Hatcher started 14 at right defensive end. They are both gone so there will be new starters at those positions. For right now the nose tackle is Kedric Golston and the right DE is Stephen Paea but that lineup is written with a dry erase marker, nothing permanent.

At linebacker, either Preston Smith or Junior Galette will start opposite Ryan Kerrigan on the outside, replacing Trent Murphy, who converted to defensive end. On the inside, it looks like Will Compton and Mason Foster have the, well, inside track to starting jobs. They started nine and five games, respectively, last year. Of the other two inside backers who started games in 2015 one, Keenan Robinson (8 starts) has gone to New York and the other, Perry Riley (9) is still around with a shot at winning back the starting job.

Cornerback Josh Norman replaces Chris Culliver (who started the season) or Will Blackmon (who had 10 starts), depending on how you want to look at it. At safety, DeAngelo Hall, who started five games at safety last year, and David Bruton, who was a reserve with the Broncos in 2015, are now the starters. If it’s not Bruton at strong it will be Duke Ihenacho, who started the opener last year but went out early in the game with a wrist injury that landed him on injured reserve. Last year Trenton Robinson, who is no longer with the team, started the most games at strong safety (7).

To count up the changes it’s easier to look at who is staying put. There are three returning solid starters and they all play on the left side—DE Chris Baker, LB Ryan Kerrigan, and CB Bashaud Breeland. At the other eight positions there will be at least six new starters (two each on the DL and S, one each at OLB and CB) and depending on how things shake out and how you want to define new starters, two more possible changes at the inside linebacker spots.

So taking the low number and adding in the offense there will be a minimum of eight new starters for the Redskins this year. That looks like a lot of disruption to a team that seemed to be on its way up but it really isn’t. The way it looks right now only two of the new starters, Norman and Bruton, are new to the team in 2016. All of the others either started some games or played a substantial role with the exception of Galette, who was on injured reserve all of last year.

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

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.

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