Redskins need new-look defense to come together at camp
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) When Ricky Jean Francois sits at home with fellow defensive end Corey Crawford, he's quick to quiz him on blitzes and situations.
Jean Francois just wants everyone on the Washington Redskins' defense to be prepared.
Every snap counts for the Redskins this training camp, especially on defense where newcomers Josh Norman and David Bruton Jr. are joining a unit that ranked 28th in the NFL last season.
Training camp, which opens July 28 in Richmond, Virginia, is the first chance for the new-look defense to come together around returners such as Jean Francois, safety DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
''You just feel a way better mold this year,'' linebacker Will Compton said. ''You have a year under your belt, you're more comfortable – things of that nature.''
Adding an All-Pro cornerback in Norman and a Super Bowl-winning safety in Bruton and getting linebacker Junior Galette back from injury should improve the Redskins' pass defense, even though defensive lineman Terrance Knighton left in free agency for the New England Patriots and Jason Hatcher retired.
The secondary has received a lot of attention, especially after Norman signed a $75 million, five-year contract following his release from the Carolina Panthers.
''Nothing against my D-line, I love them to death, but I'm more of a fan of the back end, just seeing all those new pieces being back there – the safeties, the corners, seeing D-Hall do his thing and seeing Josh back there,'' Jean Francois said.
''Man, the sky's the limit for this defense and hopefully when we get out there on this field against Pittsburgh Monday night, we'll put on a show.''
There's a long time before the Redskins open the regular season on Monday night, Sept. 12 at home against the Steelers.
First is camp and the preseason, where a handful of roster competitions will play out, including left guard (Spencer Long vs. Shawn Lauvao), inside linebacker (Perry Riley vs. Mason Foster) and strong safety (Bruton vs. Duke Ihenacho).
''Our depth chart is in pencil, it's not in Sharpie,'' defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. ''Obviously, we do have a first team, we have a second team, we have a third team at every position, but we're in constant competition.''
One place there's no competition is at quarterback, where this is Kirk Cousins' team. It's also Matt Jones' No. 1 running back job after Alfred Morris signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Offense vs. defense is the only large-scale competition at camp because, unlike previous years, the Redskins won't have another NFL team in Richmond. Players don't seem to mind.
''Iron sharpens iron,'' left tackle Trent Williams said. ''We make it tough on (defenders) it makes them better. They make it tough on us, it makes us better.''
Here are five things to watch at Redskins training camp:
THREE'S COMPANY NO MORE: With Robert Griffin III gone, Cousins goes into camp as the unquestioned starter and Colt McCoy his clear backup. But Cousins will also be playing on a one-year franchise tender and will begin trying to prove he deserves a long-term deal.
CHANGE-UPS: Converted cornerbacks Will Blackmon and Hall all are now full-time safeties, former linebacker Trent Murphy bulked up to become a defensive end and rookie Su'a Cravens can play linebacker or safety. The Redskins want as much versatility as possible on defense, but that method will be put to the test.
JUNIOR'S RETURN: Galette missed all of 2015 with a torn left Achilles and was kept off the field for offseason workouts to make sure he's ready for camp. Galette could be the key to the pass rush being as effective as it was early in the playoff game against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
MR. JONES AND WHO: Jones is the feature back in his second season, but will the Redskins look to sign a backup? Chris Thompson, 25, has the most experience of any other running back on the roster, which also includes undrafted Mack Brown and 2016 seventh-round pick Keith Marshall.
CATCH REED IF YOU CAN: Coming off a career season of 87 catches, 11 touchdowns and 952 yards and with a shiny new contract, tight end Jordan Reed could be even better in 2016. Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen are back from season-ending injuries, and Washington signed Vernon Davis to give Cousins more options and take some heat off Reed.
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