The Washington NFL team opens 2020 NFL training camp July 28 at its facility in Ashburn, Virginia. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Can quarterback Dwayne Haskins take a big step forward in Year 2?
Haskins was drafted into a situation where the coaching staff had to win now and a rookie quarterback didn't fit into those plans. Haskins didn't help himself by failing to do all the things coaches asked for when away from the facility. But he finished strong with two solid starts and, more importantly, he improved his habits in the offseason. He always worked, but now it's more NFL specific. Haskins weighs about 218 pounds -- 19 fewer than when he was drafted No. 15 overall in 2019. One challenge for Haskins is he has yet to be on the field with this new offense. It will take the entire offense -- not just Haskins -- some time to bond. Perhaps a realistic scenario is he and Washington start slow. The key will be Haskins' second half, and that is when you should see his offseason work pay off
Who are Washington's weapons on offense and do they have enough to support Haskins?
That's the addendum to the previous answer. There's potential for it to be better than anticipated. However, that relies on running back Derrius Guice staying healthy and rookie running back Antonio Gibson and rookie receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden providing an immediate impact. That's asking a lot.
Washington has major questions at tight end and lacks a proven wideout opposite Terry McLaurin, a rookie standout with 919 yards who should only improve. It lost one option, Kelvin Harmon, to a torn ACL this summer. Slot receiver Steven Sims finished the 2019 season strong with 20 catches for 230 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games. If he becomes a consistent playmaker this season, it would be a big help.
Versatility will matter. Gibson and J.D. McKissic both played receiver in college and can run routes from those positions. In theory, Washington could have a two-running back set and dictate to the defense the coverage it wants, taking advantage whether the defense is in base or nickel packages.
Will coach Ron Rivera be able to change the culture, and what's a realistic expectation for the season?
After Rivera was fired in Carolina, it was noteworthy how hard the Panthers players took the news. He helped shape the culture in Carolina so, yeah, he can change it in the Washington locker room. But that's always a challenge in Washington, no matter the intentions and especially after this offseason dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, a new team name and the team coming under scrutiny over allegations of sexual harassment. Players want direction; they want consistent leadership and attention to details. If Rivera can provide that here, then, yes, the culture will start to change. But Rivera is in a new job, too, and he's more responsible than ever for setting the culture in a building, not just the locker room. He has the power, so how he handles that role will be interesting to watch.
As for the season, it's realistic to expect early struggles. Washington has a young team; there's a real chance that 16 or 17 starters will be 26 years or younger. That, plus a new staff and the team coming off a 3-13 season means the start could be tough. The key will be how they finish. This season will become about their future as much as it is about their present.
After adding Chase Young, will Washington have one of the best defensive lines in football and can they mimic the 49ers' defensive turnaround?
Yes, Washington should have one of the best lines in football, but that sort of turnaround is a lot to ask. The 49ers went from 13th in yards and 28th in points allowed in 2018 to second and eighth, respectively, last season. But it was also their second season under coordinator Robert Saleh, which makes a difference. Plus, they had a more proven secondary than Washington does. It's also coordinator Jack Del Rio's first season with the Washington team, and again, the roller-coaster of an offseason makes such a turnaround more difficult.
However, the 49ers absolutely provided a blueprint that Washington can follow. They built their defense using high picks on their front and that's what Washington has done; it will have four players who were first-round picks in the past four years. Like the 49ers, Washington had built a solid interior with players such as Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne -- and a later-round gem in Matt Ioannidis. Drafting Young provides the potential elite outside presence Washington has lacked -- and will complement Montez Sweat and veteran Ryan Kerrigan. Washington has versatility as Young and Sweat in particular can rush inside; like the 49ers, it can use a lot of stunts and movement to put talented players in better positions. The big key will be how the back seven plays. Washington should be improved defensively, but a jump like the 49ers' might need to wait a year. Some elements match up for a solid turnaround, but to crack the top five is asking a lot.