The Washington Redskins went into the 2009 draft needing to bolster the edges of both sides of the ball. Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins Executive Vice President of Football Operations, did draft two linebacker projects on the second day of the draft. Perhaps his best move was signing veteran linebacker Robert Thomas recently.
Thomas, a former first round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams in 2000, played in just two games for the Oakland Raiders in 2008. He has never started every game in a season, and has played a full season only twice in his career thus far.
He is being expected to take over for the departed Marcus Washington at the strong side of the defense. The only other viable option is having defensive end Brian Orakpo, their first round draft choice this year, play a hybrid linebacker on obvious run situations.
The teams defensive ends are not an impressive unit as a whole. They recently inked two veterans, Phillip Daniels and Reynaldo Wynn, to provide better run stopping support. The reserves are all undersized, thus making the linebackers jobs even more important.
If Washington ends up going into the season with their current roster, there could be big troubles for the team if injuries occur on the edges of the defense.
The Redskins expect newly signed Albert Haynesworth to clog the middle with their other defensive tackles. Opponents will then try exploit Washington while staying away from the middle of the Redskins defense.
This thrusts the defensive ends and outside linebackers into the spotlight. Daniels has not been able to stay healthy an entire season the past few years, and is 36 years old.
Wynn is 35 years old, and will be competing with Daniels for the starting job opposite Andre Carter. Chris Wilson is the other defensive end in the mix, but is strictly a pass rusher and weighs 246 lbs.
The question is what the Redskins will do with Orakpo. He has very little experience as a linebacker, and he was drafted to bolster the pass rush from the defensive end position. If he stays there, the Redskins have virtually no experienced players behind Thomas on the depth chart as a strong side linebacker.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins seem set at offensive tackle on paper only. Their starters, Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen, have both been to the Pro Bowl multiple times. Both, however, have battled various injuries over the past several years.
Washington got a boost in 2007 from undrafted rookie Stephon Heyer after an injury to Jansen. Heyer did struggle with his own injuries in 2008, but did start in seven of the nine games he appeared in.
The question of depth is still trying to be addressed by the team. They recently signed Mike Williams, a former first round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2002, who has been out of football for over two years. He was recently reported to weighing as much as 400 lbs, so he appears to be a long shot at helping the team in any fashion.
The Redskins have one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL in Joe Bugel. Bugel is the architect of the "Hogs", a group of offensive linemen that led the Redskins to four Super Bowls between 1982 to 1992. In Williams, he has a massive project in every sense of the word.
If both Samuels and Jansen get injured in 2009, Washington could find themselves in big trouble. The question of quality depth behind Heyer could rear its head. The Redskins hope that Williams will be inspired to realize his potential. He is rejoining his college teammate Derrick Dockery, a guard who recently returned to the team after playing in Buffalo the past two seasons.
It appears the Redskins will be keeping their eye on the waiver wire as training camps progress. They need to get better especially on the defensive side of the ball. Their division rivals all feature quick running backs, and they have the ability to exploit Washington.
This weakness could subject their veteran cornerbacks to injuries from trying to support the run more than expected.
As things stand right now, Washington is going into another season gambling with the few solid pieces they have. It could end up getting them back to a recurrent theme of mediocrity that has been prevalent in the Vinny Cerrato era.