Steven Sims, Reuben Foster among playmakers Redskins will count on

The Washington Redskins didn’t address every roster question this offseason because they believe some answers exist within their own building. Washington is coming off a 3-13 season, so expectations will be low in coach Ron Rivera’s first season.

As the staff works to strengthen the supporting cast around young quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who has handled the offseason well, opportunities to seize larger roles will be available at several positions.

For instance:

  • The Redskins have a legitimate talent in wide receiver Terry McLaurin, but he needs more help in the passing game at receiver and running back.

  • They have, potentially, one of the top defensive lines in football. But questions remain about the back seven — specifically at linebacker and cornerback.

Four potential playmakers — under the radar for various reasons — could help solve those issues:

Perhaps it’s wrong to say he’s under the radar considering in the last four games of 2019 he caught 20 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Those aren’t Pro Bowl numbers, but they represented his growth — he caught 14 passes in the first 12 games. For the offense to develop, the Redskins need Sims to produce as he did late in the season over 16 games.

He’s not a burner (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at the 2019 combine) but became a matchup headache in the slot thanks to his quickness. And Sims has spent time this year in Dallas learning from David Robinson, who works with many receivers in the offseason. Sims worked alongside receivers such as Dez Bryant to sharpen his technique. A key focal point: Robinson said they worked on keeping Sims’ elbows above his waist and keeping his arms tighter to his body as he comes out of his break. They wanted to eliminate wasted motion.

“He looks a lot more explosive,” Robinson said.

If that’s the case, then Sims will help. But so much will depend on how he’s used in coordinator Scott Turner’s offense.

The Redskins lost both starting outside corners from 2019, cutting Josh Norman and trading Quinton Dunbar. They signed Ronald Darby and still have Fabian Moreau. But the second-year Moreland will figure into the competition. They will work him in the slot as well, but Kendall Fuller was signed this offseason to start inside. The Redskins would like to use Fuller at free safety in some coverages as well. If Moreland improves in the slot, it would allow Fuller to handle the safety role in more looks and, therefore, adds versatility.

The Redskins are hopeful about Moreland, because at James Madison University he was an outside corner who played almost all man coverage. He relied on instincts and ball skills to flourish. Now that he’s played one NFL season, the Redskins are hoping that experience will translate into a stronger all-around young corner. His fellow defensive backs rave about Moreland; if he displays consistency along with his ability to make plays, the Redskins could have something.

The Redskins were thrilled with how rookie linebacker Cole Holcomb played last season. He’ll have to improve in coverage, but he was a big help and can play the weak side or strong side in their 4-3 front. They also signed veteran Thomas Davis, a Rivera disciple whom the team feels can still play. He, too, offers flexibility and can play any of the linebacker spots.

But if Foster is healthy, that provides more defensive versatility. He would likely play the weak side and, behind a strong defensive line, could become a playmaker. The Redskins could mix and match their linebackers. However, Foster is returning from a torn ACL as well as nerve damage suffered during spring workouts in 2019. The Redskins claimed him off waivers in November 2018; he has yet to play a down for them.

“In terms of the mental approach, being up to date with the install, getting the coaching and all of that, he’s been on point with that,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “The part we can’t impact right now, is where he’s at with his rehab and whether he gets the clearance to go.”

The Redskins’ running back group is intriguing — a mix of talent and question marks. Derrius Guice’s talent isn’t in question and he’s certainly not under the radar. But after three knee injuries in his first two seasons, his durability is in question. They drafted Bryce Love in the fourth round in 2019 hoping his knee injury in college would be healed for 2020. A year and a half later, there’s still no guarantee that will be the case. They also have veteran Adrian Peterson and Peyton Barber for first- and second-down work.

McKissic, a free-agent signing, will be a third-down back, but his background as a receiver gives him an edge running routes when aligned outside. On paper, it also provides versatility. If the Redskins can get Sims, McKissic and rookie running back Antonio Gibson (a receiver in college), on the field at the same time, it would present Haskins with more options. Not to mention players who threaten a defense besides McLaurin. McKissic caught 34 passes for the Detroit Lions last season; the Redskins’ hope is that, now in his fifth year playing running back, he can do much more.

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