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RG3’s play among five big questions for Redskins

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ASHBURN, Va. — There are five major questions facing the Washington Redskins as they begin training camp in coach Jay Gruden’s second season. And as usual, front and center is the player who lines up under center.

After finishing last in the NFC East in six of the past seven seasons and going 4-12 in Gruden’s 2014 debut, the Redskins open training camp on Thursday in Richmond, Va., with plenty of questions.

Here are five big ones:

1) Can quarterback Robert Griffin III succeed in Gruden’s offense?

Free from his contentious relationship with former coaches Mike and Kyle Shanahan, Griffin struggled last summer, was hurt early in Week 2, missed six games, returned to start three games with diminishing results, and was benched for two weeks before starting the final three games after Colt McCoy was injured.

The day after the season ended, Gruden declared that there would be an open competition this summer between Griffin, McCoy and Kirk Cousins only to anoint the former the starter less than two months later.

That hasn’t changed.

But Griffin’s spring practices weren’t good enough for him to feel secure in his role. Gruden, a former Arena League star quarterback, is a pass-first coach. However, Griffin, who was the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and the record-setting NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 thanks in large part to his dazzling athleticism which has been dampened by his January 2013 knee surgery, needs to prove that he can get rid of the ball quickly from the pocket on a consistent basis and to the proper receiver for the offense to thrive.

In a division in which the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning and Dallas’ Jason Garrett and Tony Romo have been working together for many years and in which Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly traded for Sam Bradford, Gruden and Griffin are the odd couple. Can they work together every day without driving each other and Redskins fans crazy? We’ll find out as the season progresses, but they certainly didn’t get off to a good start in 2014 when the usually mild-mannered Gruden delivered a scathing critique of his quarterback following the embarrassing Week 11 home rout by lowly Tampa Bay.

2) How will the defense adjust to new coordinator Joe Barry?

Washington is still using the 3-4 alignment that former coordinator Jim Haslett employed the past five seasons. Only right end Jason Hatcher, left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, and inside linebackers Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are sure 2015 regulars who started at least nine games for the 2014 Redskins. The majority of the 2015 defense will not be acclimating to a new defense. Barry wants his players to attack first instead of waiting to react to what the offense does.

3) Will Jeron Johnson or Duke Ihenacho start at strong safety?

Ihenacho soared from rookie free agent in Denver in 2012 to starting the Super Bowl for the Broncos the next season. However, he was cut last August. He caught on with Washington but played in just three games before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

Ihenacho’s Super Bowl came against Seattle for whom Johnson was a backup to the NFL’s top safety duo, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, which explains why he only started one game in four years. Ihenacho is two inches taller and a year younger than the 5-foot-10, 27-year-old Johnson, who might have a slight advantage because new general manager Scot McCloughan, new defensive backs coach Perry Fewell and Barry chose him while they inherited Ihenacho. McCloughan was with the Seahawks when they signed Johnson.

4) Who will provide pass rush opposite Ryan Kerrigan?

Brian Orakpo did that in 2011 and 2013, but the three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker was hurt for most of 2012 and 2014 and is now with Tennessee. Orakpo’s replacement last fall, Trent Murphy, led the nation in sacks as a Stanford senior in 2013 but had just 2.5 in eight starts as a rookie. Rookie outside linebacker Preston Smith had nine sacks for Mississippi State in 2014. New defensive ends Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean-Francois combined for nine last year for Chicago and Indianapolis, respectively. Kerrigan is supposed to be the given, but he’s coming off of knee surgery described as minor.

5) Are Spencer Long and Brandon Scherff ready to start?

New right guard Long played sparingly in two games on offense as a rookie in 2014. New right tackle Scherff is a rookie. However, Chris Chester was clearly on the way down at right guard at 31 last year and right tackle Tom Compton had played sparingly in eight career games before becoming a shaky starter for the final nine games so the Redskins were very shaky on that side before the change. Long (2009-13) and new line coach Bill Callahan (2004-07) share power football roots, having spent nine years between them at Nebraska since 2003. Scherff won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 2014 at Iowa but has moved from left tackle to right tackle.


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