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Old 07-23-2005, 10:37 AM   #1
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Walters: Getting Ready to Go Camping

Getting Ready to Go Camping
By: Trevor Walters
July 23, 2005

With it having been more than five painful months since we last saw real
football, the fact that Redskins Training Camp is right around the corner brings
almost as much relief to Redskins Nation as it does excitement. The new season
is very nearly upon us, and with it comes the ever-resilient optimism that has
become a trademark characteristic of the Redskins faithful. This year, like all
others before it, has a number of different storylines that will play out before
the season kicks off in September.

Of course, the most obvious headline is the ongoing saga surrounding second-year
safety Sean Taylor and his impending trial. Taylor, who stands accused of a
felony weapons charge (which carries with it a mandatory minimum three-year
sentence if convicted), has had his presence in camp guaranteed by his agent.
While a conviction would surely enhance Taylor’s standing in the Baltimore
Ravens locker room, it would be yet another bump in Taylor’s career as a
Redskin, a career that has been so full of such bumps that it is beginning to
resemble a physical map of China. Any distractions that Gibbs and Company had
hoped to avoid by excusing Taylor from prior team activities will not be
sidestepped as easily once training camp begins in late July.

The fact that Taylor had not bothered to “Swoop” by any of the OTA’s before his
legal troubles has been largely forgotten with all the concern that he may lose
not only his starting spot, but his freedom as well. Taylor has been no
stranger to controversy, either great or small, since becoming a Redskin in
2004, and had served to force many of us who vehemently supported his selection
in the 2004 Draft to switch gears and go into damage control as full-time Sean
Taylor apologists.

Luckily, the Redskins front office has had the foresight to bring in candidates
to become Taylor’s potential replacement, or at the very least some quality
depth behind him. Pierson Prioleau, late of the Buffalo Bills, and Tony Dixon,
the former Cowboy defensive back, will join holdover Andre Lott in what is sure
to become a heated competition for at least the back-up role, if not the
starting nod. With Matt Bowen returning from season-ending knee surgery to
reclaim his starting job over the surprisingly effective Ryan Clark, the safety
position is one in which the Redskins possess great depth, regardless of
Taylor’s legal standing.

In terms of actual on-field football storylines, none is more heated than the
competition to replace the departed Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. With
the news that veteran Mike Barrow has been given permission to seek a trade, it
is safe to say that the 35 year-old does not fit into the Redskins immediate
plans. That may be the only certainly, however, with as many as nine
linebackers vying to fill the role of the Gregg Williams creation (Pierce) who
defected to the Giants.

Sorting through the list of names, Lemar Marshall, Warrick Holdman, and
third-year man Clifton Smith figure to be on the short list to replace Pierce,
with Marshall having the inside track. Holdman is the most professionally
accomplished of the trio, while Smith (6’3”, 255 lbs.) is the only one that
actually looks the part. Rookies Robert McCune and Jared Newberry figure to see
most of their action on special teams, with perhaps a more diligent attempt at
Mike in seasons to come.

While it is certainly refreshing to see that there are numerous routes the team
could go to fill their vacancy in the middle, the pessimistic angle is that one
or more of the promising prospects will almost assuredly be released due to a
lack of roster spots. Given that none of the aforementioned five ‘backers need
worry about being issued a pink slip, and that perennial stars LaVar Arrington
and Marcus Washington are roster fixtures for years to come, than brings the
linebacker total to seven, and cuts the number of remaining spots to a bare

Pass rushing specialist Chris Clemons has already been released and re-acquired,
and has proven his worth on the field. His aptitude for getting after the
quarterback is quite useful in a defense that creates the bulk of its pressure
from blitzes.

Khary Campbell, who still managed to finish third on the squad in special teams
tackles despite missing most of the latter portion of the season with a knee
injury, has also seemingly earned his keep with solid special teams play.
Campbell, though, is not the certainty that his past performance might initially
indicate. Considering that a particular player’s special teams skill was a
prerequisite this off-season if the Redskins were to consider pursuing them,
Campbell’s performance last season may not be enough to earn him his roster spot
this season.

So who stays and who goes? The wisest move would be to part ways with
special-teams-missed-tackle-waiting-to-happen Brandon Barnes and newly acquired
Brian Allen. While Allen has been solid on special teams throughout his career,
that doesn’t distinguish him from the pack on this team. Preference should, and
I believe will, be given to those who have proven themselves in the Burgundy and
Gold rather than in other places.

From there, the practice squad may find the names of several linebackers among
its ranks as a means to avoid releasing them. But given that the Redskins
signed nearly as many linebackers as they did running backs, someone has
unfortunately got to go.

The other position still in question is receiver, where the depth chart after
new starters Santana Moss and David Patten is unsure to say the least.
Darnerian McCants, who possesses the size to fill a distinct need on the team,
had difficulty grasping the offense last season and showed few signs that his
2003 performance was the real #85. Should McCants regain his earlier form and
also contribute on special teams, his is a skill set that could solidify this
receiving corps.

Several other stories are sure to be played out as well. Does Patrick Ramsey
really have the confidence that everyone around Redskins Park says he does? Can
the defense duplicate its dominant performance from a year ago? Has the offense
really been modified enough that Clinton Portis will more effectively display
his skill?

With these developments and more just on the horizon, keep checking back in for
your Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at skins.fan@comcast.net
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