10-Spot: Training Camp Preview

10-Spot: Training Camp Preview

John Keim answers 10 burning questions just in time for Training Camp, which opens tomorrow.

1. Are the Redskins better entering camp this year compared to last year? In many ways, yes they are -- even though last year started with talk of the Super Bowl.

But, don't forget that Washington opened camp with some nagging injuries along the offensive line. Four of the five starters were dealing with something and did not play until the second preseason game. That set a negative tone for the season.

This year, though, everyone is healthy and will be able to practice. That alone gives Washington an edge over last year.

2. Is there a training camp battle to watch? Not really. Clinton Portis will be the starting running back and Ladell Betts will be the backup. That's long been decided.

Todd Wade is the left guard and has to play his way out of a job. But, from what we hear, there's no real alternative so it's Wade or nothing.

Defensively, Rocky McIntosh has to prove he can start on the weakside. But he'll enter with the job.

3. Is Jason Campbell improved? Yes. Wait until you see him in person or in the preseason games. We're not talking John Elway or Dan Marino. But he is more polished than when he started last year.

His footwork is better; he carries the ball in a better spot, helping him eliminate much of his windup; and he knows where to throw the ball. He spent the past month diagramming plays as part of his homework.

He also worked on calling out plays at the line and in the huddle, something he struggled with last year. How much that means he'll improve remains to be seen. But it's a good start.

4. Will the passing game be more prolific? It should be. But that depends on a couple guys, in addition to Campbell. First, Santana Moss has to stay healthy. Has to. That Moss had hamstring problems in June does not bode well. But he enters camp supposedly healthy.

Still, it's something to watch. Though Brandon Lloyd has gotten noticeably bigger, he's still a major question mark. The knock on him is that, though he runs good routes, he throws off the timing with the quarterback by changing things up on occasion. He gets open, but sometimes it's too late and the quarterback is already looking elsewhere.

So I'm not counting on him. Antwaan Randle El ended the season as the No. 2 and should have a legitimate chance to start the season that way. He's not as talented as Lloyd but he is more reliable and that will matter to a young QB. Same with Chris Cooley. He should catch 80 passes this season.

5. Will the defense be improved? Hmmm, the $64,000 question. My first instinct is to question why the coaches didn't improve the DL. But these coaches clearly know what they're doing and feel as if they have the group they want.

Still, I don't like that they're relying in large part on two guys -- Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin -- who have been slowed by injuries the past couple years. If the line is not improved, the rest of the defense will suffer. London Fletcher will have a big year if Griffin does.

The secondary should be solid, with four former top-10 picks as starters. Sean Taylor should like being freed of some responsibilities to play free safety. A healthy Shawn Springs would be a tremendous help. It'll be interesting to see how Springs handles all that happened to him in the offseason. Does he let it bother him?

6. Can Todd Wade play left guard? We'll find out. But the Redskins like that he is more athletic than they anticipated, allowing him to be able to pull. He's also very big and physical. So what will happen is this: they'll play to his strengths.

If a big lug is over center Casey Rabach, they'll zone block to the right with Wade mauling that man. Stuff like that. They can make do -- if he shows he can at least play a little at this spot.

7. What should you bring? Water. And sunscreen, though practices will mostly be before the sun gets hot or later in the afternoon. Also, there are no bleachers, so bring a chair if you want to sit. Also, bring lots of patience; not much happens in the early part of practice.

8. What practices are open? Here's the list:

5 p.m. July 27; 4:30 p.m. July 28; 4 p.m. July 29; 4:30 p.m. July 31; 4 p.m. Aug. 2; 10 a.m. Aug. 3; 4:30 p.m. Aug. 6; 7 p.m. Aug. 8.

Also, call the camp hot line at 703-726-7411 for more information. Gates open two hours before practice begins. A good crowd is usually around 1,500 to 2,000 and the traffic is usually tame.

9. Best spot for autographs? Sorry, I don't sign them. I get tired of seeing them on eBay 20 minutes later. Oh, the players you mean?

Position yourself along the fence where the path turns up towards the building. And be polite.

10. Is this the start of a playoff year? Well, in Warpath I said no. They have too many question marks that need to be answered for anyone to suggest otherwise. And I'll stick by that sentiment.

However, it doesn't matter how one feels entering camp; it's how you feel leaving it that matters. Two years ago I entered camp thinking they were a 9-10 win team and that's what happened. Last year I entered camp thinking they could contend for the NFC championship. But when camp ended I pegged them as a 9-7 team and had actually considered picking them to go 7-9. I already sense a stronger resolve than last year. Some coaches felt the players assumed they would take the so-called next step last year and that they didn't work all that hard in the offseason, despite claims to the contrary by Joe Gibbs. But this year Antwaan Randle El told one coach, ''I see a different hunger in their eyes.'' We'll see, starting Friday.

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