As the Washington Redskins start voluntary workouts Monday, here's a look at several storylines heading into the sessions:
First impression: Quarterback Alex Smith said he's already met a handful of players, mostly those recovering from injuries or offseason surgery. The Redskins clearly want Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with Kansas City, to be the face of the franchise, as a quarterback should be. But Monday starts the process of him becoming a team leader. You can't force that on a player; it must happen naturally. But his presence likely will have a good impact on the locker room where some players were drained by the past two years of contract talk. Smith's reputation in San Francisco and Kansas City was that of an excellent guy in the locker room.
He represents a return to normalcy at the position. He comes across as a regular guy who wants nothing more than to just play quarterback. That was evident in his first news conference in Washington and even at an event for season ticket holders last week. Smith might have been the No. 1 overall pick once upon a time, but his path is relatable for many players: He started, was benched, was criticized heavily, has been with multiple teams but has carved out a good career. It hasn't been easy. Perhaps that altered his perspective and it's why he's considered a good leader -- not a huge vocal guy, but someone who is widely respected.
Last week he laid out a basic goal: "Just come in and be myself. Be a good teammate, get to work. A lot of that stuff will take care of itself."
Smith won't get any on-field work with new teammates yet; for the next two weeks it's all about strength and conditioning (or rehabbing).
The missing guys: Tight end Jordan Reed (toe) and tackles Trent Williams (knee) and Morgan Moses (ankle) won't participate in spring workouts. Running back Chris Thompson's initial recovery from his broken fibula in November was expected to last four-to-six months, which means he'd be ready for training camp. He has started running, however. Each player had surgery this offseason and the belief is they'll be ready for training camp. Coach Jay Gruden said last month about Reed that "hopefully" he's 100 percent for camp. All three players invested a lot in the offseason in the past, so missing their offseason routine won't help. They can still go on to have a good season, of course. But it's different when you spend an offseason rehabbing vs. training to get better. One reason Thompson elevated his game over the past couple years was for that reason; he could focus on improving. Last offseason, for example, in addition to his other work, he spent a day with the receivers to work on his route-running. He took what he learned and worked on it some more and it played a big role in his early success last season.
Return to work: Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. He tried to return late last season with a Lisfranc injury, but it was never quite right and therefore his status wasn't close to changing. Those can be tricky injuries, especially for a bigger player because it deals with a weight-bearing bone -- when you're pushing off at 300-plus pounds, it puts added stress. Moses went through the same thing as a rookie, so you can rebound and flourish. But it's a good sign for Allen and the Redskins. He's a crucial part to any defensive success they'll have in 2018.
The new (or improved) guys: As you might have heard, the Redskins haven't been busy in free agency. The only newcomers signed during this period: receiver Paul Richardson, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and linebacker Pernell McPhee. So they're relying heavily on improved health, young players developing and the draft. If they're relying on young players improving, then this will be the start of seeing whether anything has changed. It'll all come down to how they play when the pads are on in August, of course. It'll be interesting to see how a guy like guard Arie Kouandjio progresses; he's altered his training to focus more on guard-related movements. For example, he's worked on lower-body strength to help vs. bull rushes (a weakness) and he's done a lot of agility work to help his ability to pull (a necessity in this offense). That's not to say he's the answer at left guard, but his progression bears watching just to see what impact this work has on his game. For what it's worth the Redskins are still in contact with one of their own free agent guards, Shawn Lauvao, about a possible return.