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Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith could start for Washington Redskins

NFL Nation reporter John Keim assesses which rookies on the Redskins could earn a starting berth this season.

Why Brandon Scherff could start: Because there’s nobody else at right tackle and because they selected him with the fifth overall pick in the draft for a reason. The Redskins started Tom Compton at this position for the final nine games last season, but that only revealed the need to find another starting right tackle. Compton is an OK backup, but that’s about it, and last year’s third-round pick, Morgan Moses, was better on the left side. He’s also recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Plus, when Moses was drafted, some in the organization believed his development would take a while, and the need at right tackle was immediate.

Enter Scherff. There was considerable debate in the NFL world about whether he was best-suited at tackle – and those debates were not just among analysts. Many teams believed his best spot would be guard. But some teams labeled his potential this way: good tackle, great guard. For the Redskins, a good tackle would be a nice improvement. Scherff is considered smart, tough and nasty – all three elements needed for any good lineman. He’s athletic enough to play on the edge and should be an excellent fit for line coach Bill Callahan, who likes to mix power and zone schemes in the run game.

Why Preston Smith could start: This one is much less clear and, in the end, outside linebacker Trent Murphy will be ahead of Smith entering camp and probably going into the season. Murphy is just further ahead and is coming off a good spring. But it’s not as if he is already a proven player, so he must still show he can be an effective all-around outside linebacker. In 2014, Murphy started eight games as a rookie for the injured Brian Orakpo and showed the ability to be an effective edge-setter in the run game. But Murphy recorded only 2.5 sacks and the Redskins need more from this position. They like Murphy’s hands and believe he’s capable of more as a pass-rusher.

But if he falters, Smith enters the picture. The Redskins drafted him in the second round with the 38th overall pick. Smith has terrific hands, which should make him effective if they want to rush him from the inside (they did not show this during the spring; eventually I think he will). He’s a good athlete with length – watch out for him on inside moves if he gets his hands up. Smith, though, clearly has plenty to learn – he still is thinking too much, causing him to hesitate. And he does not look fluid in coverage. Regardless, both linebackers will play quite a bit. The Redskins will play nickel probably 70 percent of the time and want all three outside linebackers, including Ryan Kerrigan, on the field for pass-rush purposes.