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Redskins 2017 roster battles: Which cornerback will cover the slot?

Redskins 2017 roster battles: Which cornerback will cover the slot?

The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.

Nickel cornerback

The contenders:

The Redskins never really got settled at what is essentially a starting position in a league where three- and four-wide receiver sets are the norm. Dashaun Phillips played the slot the first few games before a combination of a hamstring injury and ineffectiveness put him on the bench. Rookie third-round pick Kendall Fuller took over and it was hoped he would seize the job for a long time. But he got lit up with quarterbacks posting a 120 passer rating when throwing into his coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Fuller wound up being a healthy scratch late in the season. Veteran Greg Toler handled the slot down the stretch.

Toler was not re-signed. Phillips and Fuller are back but it is not just a two-man competition for the nickel corner spot. While Bashaud Breeland would rather stay at one of the outside spots in his contract year (outside corners get paid more than slot guys), they could put Quinton Dunbar or rookie Fabian Moreau outside in nickel situations and have Breeland slide inside. While rookie seventh-round pick Josh Holsey is a long shot to land the job but as long as the job remains unsettled he will get a look.

And the winner is . . .

Tandler: Last year was a year to forget for Fuller. He suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that ended his final year at Virginia Tech after three games. The injury hampered him during the offseason program and in training camp. Fuller was inactive for the first three games in part because of the knee and in part because he wasn’t ready. He struggled mightily, as noted above. But with the third-round pick invested in him, I think he gets first crack at grabbing the nickel job this year. Many analysts had Fuller rated as a first-round talent before his injury. If he is fully healthy I think that he has a very good shot at taking the job and not giving it up.

Finlay: No surprise that Tandler picked his fellow Hokie Fuller to take over the nickel cover spot. Fuller is a better player than he showed last year, but he will have to prove that starting in minicamp. Coaches lost their faith in him, particularly when he got torched by Stef Diggs and the Vikings. A full NFL offseason and a healthy knee could make a big difference. One name I would throw in that Tandler didn't mention would be Will Blackmon. The veteran was forced to move to safety in 2016 because the Redskins lacked viable options, but with an offseason that added D.J. Swearinger via free agency and Montae Nicholson in the draft, not to mention moving Su'a Cravens full-time to safety and the expected healthy return of DeAngelo Hall, Blackmon might be able to move back to corner.  Playing primary nickel corner in the second half of the 2015 season, Blackmon made plays, logging two interceptions and three forced fumbles to go with eight broken up passes. Fuller might have the inside track, but I wouldn't count out the veteran Blackmon. There's also a scenario where Fabian Moreau could force his way onto the field, likely as an outside corner. If that happens, expect Breeland to bump inside. This would likely not happen until the midway point of the season at the earliest as Moreau is working back from injury and will need to learn the NFL game. 

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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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