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Writers Roundtable: Breakout Player In 2011?

Posted Apr 5, 2011

Larry Weisman, Matt Terl and Gary Fitzgerald debate a Redskins topic. This week: Who has the potential to be a breakout player for the Redskins in 2011?

Welcome to Redskins.com’s Writers Roundtable, in which Larry Weisman, Matt Terl and Gary Fitzgerald discuss and debate a Redskins question each week.

Question: Who do you think has the potential to be a breakout player for the Redskins in 2011?

Larry: I’m going to go out on a limb (an oft-injured one) and suggest that it could be wide receiver Malcolm Kelly. He seems to get left out of most discussions of the Redskins receivers, as if he were not still here. Well, he is.

He’s 6-4, 227 pounds, which gives him the size that the rest of this group lacks. He could be dangerous around the end zone, running the fade pattern. We’ve seen him have some flashes but injuries and inconsistency have held him back.

This is his third season and he had time last year, while on injured reserve, to get his body together and to learn the new offense. He possesses the physical attributes. I’m going to put my money (well, only a small portion of my vast portfolio) on Kelly.

Gary: Malcolm Kelly has too many question marks for me to identify him as a breakout player in 2011. Sure, he has shown flashes, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy and become a regular contributor before I would be willing to count on him.

On offense, I would look to the line. The unit remains a work in progress, to be sure, but I was impressed with the development and demeanor of left guard Kory Lichtensteiger as the season progressed. Lichtensteiger, 26, started 14 games for the Redskins and after some early struggles his play improved. If he and 22-year-old Trent Williams can continue to develop cohesion, they could solidify the left side of the line for years to come.

On defense, a lot depends on what happens in free agency. If there’s an opening at inside linebacker next to London Fletcher, then I like Robert Henson as a candidate to step up. Henson, 25, is a 2009 sixth-round draft pick who has just six NFL regular season games on his resume.

I think back to Henson’s performance in the 2010 preseason finale at Arizona. He was all over the field making plays and posted seven tackles and one sack – all in the first half. Then he suffered a right knee injury and ended up on injured reserve. I have to believe Henson is motivated to make up for lost time in 2011.

Matt: I’ll take it a step further, Gary – I think Henson’s knee injury might actually make him even better. I spoke to him a few times toward the end of last season and directly afterward, and having the game taken away from him had really focused him. He was working out furiously, franctic to come back next season and earn a spot on the team. He knows that he’ll have to impress on special teams first, but he’s ready to do that.

I liked Henson’s play in that final preseason game, but it’s what I saw from him AFTER that that makes me agree with you about his prospects.

One guy who might contribute along the offensive line is tackle Selvish Capers. The way I see Capers, he’s a straight boom-or-bust kind of guy. His physical skills perfectly suit the offensive system – he’s a converted tight end who’s got incredible athleticism – but the question to me is if he can fully learn that system.

If he can, I think he could be a major contributor, not just a backup; if he can’t ... well, that’s not really what we’re discussing here. But he’s had an entire year to learn in a low-pressure situation and he comes across as a solid, level-headed guy in person, so you could count Capers as a guy about whom I’m optimistic.

Plus, think of the positives if Capers really does develop as a starter: selecting two starting offensive linemen would completely validate the 2010 draft class, for one. And his last name offers an incredible panoply of puns for Weisman to work with. You could work with “capers” like the little briny pickled caper berries, or “caper” like a heist film. I mean, there’s really no bad resolution to this caper!

Larry: Panoply of puns? Me? Hey, humor is in my blood. Now if I could just get it into my writing. I tried desperately to come up with another Capers joke but I think Matt executed them all, which I find incredibly Selvish.

I’d say the same thing is in play for Henson as for Kelly. Sometimes being at a remove from the game reinforces just how important it should have been. I think this coaching staff had some high expectations for Henson because it really did not look for help at linebacker in the 2010 draft (other than Perry Riley) while moving to a 3-4.

As I started with a receiver, let me return to that position. Do you guys see Brandon Banks getting more touches on offense? He may see his role reduced if the new kickoff rule produces more touchbacks and a young player with that much speed can help open up the offense.

I know it’s risky with a fellow of Banks’ size to have him on the field a lot but I think he can give the offense more than two receptions and the possibility of some big plays in that phase, complementing what he does on returns.

Gary: Ah, I figured I would get called out for questioning Kelly while promoting Henson. The criticism is justifiable. Yes, Henson's body of NFL work is actually significantly less than Kelly's. But the level of concern with Kelly's injury history is greater, in my mind.

Larry also mentioned Perry Riley ... I think Riley is a also candidate to emerge as a breakout player at inside linebacker if Henson doesn’t. Riley made some nice plays on special teams – except for the unfortunate penalty to nullify a Banks punt return for a touchdown in Week 12 – and he could be ready to take the next step.

As for Banks, I can see him getting more touches on offense, but I don’t yet see him as an every-down receiver in the mold of a DeSean Jackson or a Devin Hester. I think coaches continue to work him into the offense, via the Wildcat and as a slot wide receiver, but I don’t think he is someone who can be relied on yet. His size worries me and he was slowed by a knee injury late last season.

As for Capers, his role depends on who stays and who goes in free agency. This offseason, he could find himself atop the depth chart at right tackle at some point, but I would be surprised if he were the opening day starter. I agree that Capers is a boom or bust guy, but I can’t put him in the breakout category until he is actually on a regular season roster.

I’ll throw one more name out there as a possibility: defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. He’ll be one full year removed from rehabbing his knee ligament injury and ready to play a more significant role on a defense that has a need at the position. I believe his presence could allow the Redskins to bypass defensive end in the early rounds of the NFL Draft.

Matt: When I was about 15 years old or so, kick returner Brian Mitchell was my favorite player. From the time he was a rookie, I firmly believed that he was a threat to score a touchdown every time he touched the ball – and, as a result, I wanted him to get in the game, more more more.

I wanted them to work him in at running back. I wanted them to make the most of his experience as an option quarterback. Heck, I even wanted them to give him a look at linebacker. But none of those things really happened, and he had to settle for being one of the best return men of all time.

Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but I’m on the other side of things with Brandon Banks: just be one of the top return guys in the league and leave the every-down wide receiver stuff to other people.

Other than that, I also like Riley, and would like to see more from Jarmon as well. There’s a general perception that the defense is full of holes, but we’ve listed two potential breakout players at linebacker and another on the defensive line – all from guys who are already on the roster. In fact, for a team that’s generally thought to be kind of old and not particularly deep, we certainly have managed to find a lot of potential breakout young players.

If the coaches already believe that any of these guys can contribute in the ways we’ve envisioned here, that first round of the draft might go very differently from how people expect.

Gary: Your favorite Redskin was the kick returner? Well, I suppose you can't go wrong with B-Mitch, especially on Norv Turner's early Redskins teams.

I'm happy to say Darrell Green was my favorite Redskin during that era. An argument for another Roundtable, no?