RICHMOND, Va. -- The Washington Football Team opens 2021 NFL training camp Wednesday at the Bon Secours facility. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Will running back Antonio Gibson be a breakout star?
A star? That will be difficult. But it's quite easy to see him breaking out. The big key for Gibson will be how his injured toe responds; he suffered a turf toe injury in December, missing two games. Gibson looked fine this spring and said he felt a lot better, but also said it wasn't completely healed. If it doesn't become an issue, Gibson should be primed for a much bigger season. The 2020 third-round pick averaged 5.05 yards per carry in his last six games, showing more patience and understanding of playing running back as he transitioned from playing mostly wide receiver in college at Memphis.
For the season, he rushed for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also should have a better chance to make bigger plays in the pass game -- perhaps not a lot more catches, but more impactful -- after averaging 6.9 yards on his 36 receptions last season. With more talent at wide receiver and a well-stocked offensive line, Gibson should benefit from less attention by defenses.
Is this quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's best chance to lead a team to the playoffs?
Had the Miami Dolphins stuck with him last season, you can make a strong case the veteran quarterback would have advanced to the postseason then. In 2015, he led the New York Jets to a 10-6 record, but they lost a tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fitzpatrick was hurt that season by playing in the same division as the New England Patriots, but he did have a top-10 defense in points and yards to help, and he had 1,000-yard wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
He has had other good opportunities, but this season in Washington will be Fitzpatrick's best chance at the playoffs for a couple reasons. The offensive skill talent has improved and the defense is coming off a top-five finish. In most of his career stops, Fitzpatrick had to constantly look over his shoulder because a high draft pick was the No. 2 QB. That's not the case here. And he joined a division in which no team finished with a winning record a year ago. Now he just has to do it over 17 games, and that's been the tough part.
Can the WFT become the first NFC East repeat winner since 2004?
Washington hasn't reached the postseason in consecutive years since the 1991 and 1992 seasons. It hasn't finished with a winning record since 2016 and it hasn't won 10 or more games since 2012. But it has a chance to end all three streaks this season. To do so, the WFT needs to finish in the top half of the offensive rankings and not get overrun by a schedule featuring seven quarterbacks who finished among the top 13 in total QBR last season (compared to two in 2020).
Washington's offense ranked 28th last season in number of plays gaining 20 yards or more. That must change with the addition of wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Fitzpatrick can't become a turnover machine. Defensively, Washington was a top-four unit in both points and yards allowed in 2020. It will be hard to duplicate that success, but to make the playoffs Washington must limit the damage by the quality quarterbacks it will face.
Will Chase Young become a top-five edge rusher?
Perhaps not this season, but he will come close. To do so, Young must surpass players such as San Francisco's Nick Bosa, the Chargers' Joey Bosa, Cleveland's Myles Garrett, Chicago's Khalil Mack and Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, among others. That's asking quite a bit in his second season. Young finished with 7.5 sacks last season, including four in his last six games. But here's what some elite pass-rushers did in their first two years: Mack (four sacks to 15); T.J. Watt (seven to 13); J.J. Watt (5.5 to 20.5); Denver's Von Miller (11.5 to 18.5).
Young played through a hip injury last season while developing as a pass-rusher. He made big plays with four forced fumbles and three recoveries, including one he returned for a touchdown. He's a driven player. Washington's best interior pass-rusher, Matt Ioannidis, missed most of last season, so his return helps quite a bit. Heck, fellow end Montez Sweat can easily become an elite pass-rusher himself.