SEABROOK — How close are the Washington Redskins to becoming a winning team?
Well, if you ask Redskins management, the answer is simple — very close. Heading into the start of preseason, the rosters are full of big-name additions who will be putting on burgundy and gold practice jerseys for the first time when training camp begins July 25.
Among them are first-round picks Dwayne Haskins and Montez Sweat and veterans Landon Collins and Case Keenum.
The team, which finished 7-9 last year in an injury-plagued season that ended with a 24-0 blowout to the rival Philadelphia Eagles, has tried to quickly retool for a playoff run this season. But going in, the Redskins are optimistic about what they have, particularly their defense.
“I know it’s early, but I really like our defense’s mentality, number one,” said Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden. “I think we have a tough edge to us, and I’m expecting that to carry over.”
The biggest signing this offseason was safety Collins, who the Redskins inked for six years at $84 million. Collins, who has been a standout safety for the New York Giants, with three Pro Bowl appearances and a First Team All Pro selection, is a key addition to the defense, which many consider the strength of the team.
Last season, Washington ranked 17th in total defense, a ranking that dropped as the year progressed as the Redskins’ stout defense at the beginning of the year faded in that latter part of the season.
“Now we have a tone-setter in Landon Collins that can help stop the run, obviously, and be an impact player for us in the secondary,” Gruden said.
Collins’ signing comes as a change of pace for the Redskins, who, in recent years, have resisted making splash moves by taking in big-name free agents.
In addition to Collins, the other big move in offseason was the addition of Sweat, a defensive end out of Mississippi State, who Washington drafted by trading back into the first round. Sweat has drawn the eye and praise of coaches with his athleticism, as he constantly beat Redskins linemen in the team’s organized team activities in June.
“It’s exciting to have a big, long guy that can actually run real well,” said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. “I think with Sweat, he is doing a great job of trying to pick up the system like young defensive linemen are.”
Perhaps the biggest mystery for Washington going into training camp is who will start at quarterback. This offseason, the team drafted Haskins out of Ohio State with the 15th overall pick and traded for Keenum, a veteran who played with the Denver Broncos last season.
In addition, Colt McCoy, who filled in for starting quarterback Alex Smith after a leg break ended his season during Week 11, will return this year, and likely compete for the starting job along with Haskins and Keenum.
Unlike Keenum and Haskins, McCoy has not participated in the team’s voluntary offseason practices this summer as he was recovering from a broken leg that he sustained in a Week 13 game against the Eagles. With McCoy gone for the voluntary offseason workouts, Keenum has gotten the most reps with the first-team offense.
While Gruden has said the competition is open, so far most of the snaps have gone to Keenum rather than Haskins. When camp begins Thursday, whoever gets the early reps in practice could show who Gruden prefers to start at quarterback.
“We’ll let these guys continue to play and see which one continues to improve, which one is most consistent throughout the training camp and preseason, and we’ll go from there,” Gruden said about the quarterback competition. “I promise you I feel good about any of the three playing.”
With reports that seven-time pro-bowl left tackle Trent Williams could hold out of training camp, the Redskins’ starting offensive line unit could be in jeopardy.
This offseason, the Redskins lost offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, who signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. Nsekhe provided depth at tackle for the team as Washington sustained two straight injury-plagued seasons.
Hoping to add depth to the offensive line, Washington signed offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, who struggled with the Giants last season. While Gruden said Flowers could be moved to guard, with the team facing a potential future without Williams, Flowers could fill that role.
“I think with the lack of tackles we had participating, we had to put him at tackle and he did a good job,” Gruden said of Flowers. “We did start him at guard early and he did a good job, but I think once we get to training camp, we’ll put him back at guard.”
Lastly, there is guard Brandon Scherff, whose season ended thanks to a torn pectoral muscle. While Scherff will return healthy this training camp, he does so without a long-term deal. Scherff, a two-time pro-bowl guard, has one year left on his rookie deal.