The Dress Rehearsal
Getting an Extended Look
After two pre-season games in the books Washington is 0-2, which doesn't matter. What does matter, are the remaining question on the offensive side of the ball. Will Trent Williams continue to hold out and who covers the blind side with his absence, is Dwayne Haskins in line to lead the Redskins in week #1, can Jordan Reed stay healthy and which receivers make the cut? These questions and more should be answered as week #1 approaches.
Washington's third preseason game is against Atlanta, which is the game often referred to as the "dress rehearsal", with the fourth and final exhibition game used for players on the roster bubble.
Teams often utilize the third exhibition game to play their starters for the entire first half, using minimal installation of their scheme. It's an opportunity for coaches to get an extended look at the potential starters and determine if the lineup needs shuffling, prior to week #1.
The Signal Callers
The quarterback play in pre-season has been up and down, but once again the playbook is simplified, with next to no game planning taking place. Washington is grooming a rookie signal caller and hiccups are inevitable.
The early returns have been mixed, but all signs point to veteran newcomer Case Keenum getting the nod as the week #1 starter. Now that's not to say Keenum is the better quarterback, but it's been reported that coaches feel better about the journey men's ability to run this offense and consistently adjust protections when necessary
Keenum has been average during the pre-season. On only 16 attempts, he’s completed 7 completions for 1 TD and most importantly no ints. Keenum has lasted in the league, primarily based on his ability to manage games, while minimizing timely turnovers.
On the flip side, Dwayne Haskins has gone 15 for 28 with 231 passing yards 1TD and 2 ints during the two-game span. Haskins also had a fumble versus the Bengals, but many have argued it was an incompletion based on the tape, which showed his arm going forward when the ball came out. The primary difference between the opportunities given to the quarterbacks, is that Haskins has had minimal time playing with the starters, opposed to Keenum. One thing is for sure, Haskins has shown flashes and more upside compared to Keenum.
ESPN Redskins beat writer John Keim emphasized just how impressive Haskins lone touchdown pass of the pre-season was.
"Haskins used the hard count well. Drew a flag on first one to make it 3&4. Picked up first on throw. Next one, caused D to rotate S early and then alters protection and immediately changes mind where going on play because of the new look and resulted in a TD."
In this week's press conference, head coach Jay Gruden mentioned that Colt McCoy is still dealing with issues planting & throwing. Gruden went more in detail about his potential availability for the season as well.
"It might be 2-3 weeks into the season, we don't know yet. There's no timetable for him until he feels like he's can 100% push off that leg."
The statement by Gruden, assures fans that the quarterback race is officially down to Keenum & Haskins, but it's likely the decision might already be determined.
Per multiple reports, Keenum seems to have done enough to get the week #1 start versus Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
It will be interesting to see if Haskins does in fact get time with the starters during the first half versus Atlanta, but by most accounts it will be Keenum. It's inevitable that Haskins will see the filed this year, so why not give him the start this week? In saying that, look for Haskins to look even sharper in his third test, as he gets more comfortable making line/play-call adjustments, while gaining experience reading defenses. Haskins has shown improvement in those areas and should leave fans wanting more after Thursday night.
The Pass Catchers
The new blood has taken center stage at wide receiver, with 4th year receiver Josh Doctson potentially fighting for a roster spot. Although Gruden often mentions Doctson & Paul Richardson when discussing the starters, both have had quiet off seasons. Apparently Richardson is still not ready for game action and won’t play tonight, after dealing with knee/shoulder injuries during the 2018 season. Regardless, the Redskins receiving room could look dramatically different in 2019.
As it stands, the roster locks seem to be the aforementioned receivers, along with slot receiver Trey Quinn, Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims and Kelvin Harmon (6 total). Quinn has been limited and is dealing with a thumb injury. With the announcement, that Quinn will sit out this week's game, the door will be open for roster hopefuls Steven Sims, Robert Davis, Darvin Kenzey and Jehu Chesson.
Davis in particular has had an impressive pre-season, after missing the entire 2018 season with a gruesome knee injury.
Another positive performance could land him a roster spot as the 7th WR. Gruden typically keeps 5-6 receivers on the final 53-man roster, but this position group could have a surprise addition or subtraction that fans aren't expecting. The head coach also mentioned, that the receivers on the back end of the depth chart need to provide value on special teams. So, fans should play close attention to who’s the primary KR/PR’s tonight.
The tight ends might be the easiest position to forecast considering that Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Jeremy Sprinkle will all make the final 53-man roster. Reed is expected to see some time versus Atlanta, but more Sprinkle is what coaches need to see. The former Arkansas tight end has been primarily used as the blocking tight end, often giving teams a tell of the run play to come.
Many team evaluators believe Sprinkle’s role should expand this year, which offers another dimension to the offense. Rookie Donald Parham offers great size at 6’8” 237 lbs, but has shown little when called upon during game action and the practice squad seems like his inevitable destination. As for second-year tight ends’ J.P. Holtz and Matt Flanagan, they also seem to be on the outside looking in.
With Washington passing on a tight end in FA and the draft, keeping only three on the roster seems to be the likely outcome.
The Offensive Line
The offensive line has been a big concern since it was announced that Trent Williams would not return to the team. The speculation is all over the place, but no discussions regarding contract parameters have been mentioned. Fans need to go on the premise that Williams will not be back and a trade is likely on the horizon.
The Redskins signed 14 year veteran tackle Donald Penn to replace Williams, with second year tackle Geron Christian clearly not fit to start. Christian’s technique and a lack of power make him a liability.
Left Guard seems to be a position influx as well. Former New York Giant tackle Ereck Flowers is converting to guard and is currently considered the starter at LG, even though his transition is still a work in progress.
Rookie guard Wes Martin, seems to be the logical choice for left guard, but coaches seem intent on playing Flowers. In the end Penn & Martin should be the week #1 starters on the left side, with the rest of the o-line looking to show some stability with Roullier, Schreff and Moses all returning.
Depth is still a major concern though, but adding Alabama center Ross Pierschbacher on day 3 of the draft helps, considering he also offers the ability to play guard. After the Tide center, Tony Bergstrom and a cast of underachievers will vie for the opportunity to make the final 53.
The Running Backs
Although second year back Derruis Guice still hasn't been fully cleared after suffering an ACL knee injury in 2018, by all accounts he has looked good, most notably when making sharp cuts.
Per head coach Jay Gruden it's possible Guice will see the filed this week. Having a healthy Guice, who also offers the ability contribute in the receiving game is a big plus for this offense.
Bringing back Adrian Peterson was a savvy move by Washington and big things are expected from the 12-year veteran. Adding a presumably healthy Chris Thompson, makes this backfield depth one of the most impressive in the division.
Thompson has quietly become one of the best blocking backs in Washington, since Clinton Portis. Having CT will be huge, considering the left side of the line is influx and his ability to effectively chip pass rushers will be essential.
It's unlikely the three top backs will see much time versus Atlanta, especially considering a 4th spot at running back is up for grabs.
Third year back Samaje Perine’s name has come up often when coach Gruden's discussed depth. Gruden has also mentioned the importance of depth players contributing on special teams. That would make one think Perine is on the outside looking in, based on his limitations as a special team's contributor.
So, look for Byron Marshall (experienced KR) and small school sleeper Craig Reynolds to see extended time tonight.
More Needed From Special Teams
Judging special teams in the preseason, can be challenging considering players are often swapped out and replaced, delaying any semblance of cohesion.
The Redskins have given up 2 punt returns for scores during the last two games, albeit during late-game garbage time. Missed FG's and extra points have also occurred, but big returns that result in points are momentum killers.
The kick & punt returners should be an area of focus for fans tonight. Roster hopefuls Byron Marshall, Darvin Kenzey, Steven Sims, Jehu Chesson and perhaps Robert Davis are likely vying for one spot, and KR/PR could be their ticket onto the final 53 man roster.
On the Bright Side, The Defense is Legit
The starting front line for Washington can be absolutely disruptive this season. Last week, John Allen and Crimson Tide teammate Daron Payne showed the hustle & energy that was installed in them by Alabama coach Nick Saban. Both linemen looked as though they were on another level, shedding blockers at will.
The extension of Matt Ioannidis showed a commitment to solidifying the trenches on defense as well. Ioannidis has been underutilized, but that will change this year with a more fluent rotation.
Adding ultra-athletic rookie edge rusher Montez Sweat could be the missing piece to this pass rush, with Ryan Kerrigan often seeing double teams.
Coach Jim Tomsula boasts the deepest unit on the team and having Tim Settle and Caleb Brantley could pay off. Both are recovering from minor injuries, but are expected to be available week #1.
After that, the depth gets a little murkier with Ryan Anderson, Cassanova McKinzy and rookie Jordan Brailford (could start the year on IR). All have the ability to contribute off the bench, but need to show more in the final two exhibition games.
The inside linebacker position lost presumptive starter Reuben Foster early in the offseason to injury, thus creating a hole at the position.
Second year ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton and newcomer Jon Bostic are penciled at as the starters, but look for promising rookie Cole Holcomb and Josh Harvey-Clemons to see the field with SDH in and out of the lineup. Throw in newcomer UDFA Gary Johnson who offers impressive speed, and this group could exceed expectations.
Depth at outside linebacker & inside linebacker will be something to keep an eye on, with further additions before week #1 likely.
The defensive backs are a group that seem to have their starters locked in. The starting safeties boast size and strength with the addition of Landon Collins and the return of a healthy Montae Nicholson.
Behind them, second year free safety Troy Apke looks to make an impression, with special teams' standout Deshazor Everrett adding the ability to play both FS and SS. This is another position that could add depth before week #1, with Apke’s spot no sure thing.
At cornerback, the talk off the offseason has been Jimmy “Effin” Moreland. At first glance the 5’11" 182 lbs the DB looks out of his league, but his presence has been felt all offseason and culminated with two forced fumbles versus Cincinnati.
Returning starters Josh Norman & Quinton Dunbar are safe for now, but Moreland and Fabian Moreau are two players that should see the field frequently as the nickel or CB#2. Although Moreau was seen wearing a cast, it’s reported that it’s just a sprain and the cast is strictly for precautionary reasons.
Fans will get a better idea of the 40 or so players that are sure bets to make the team, but every year a few roster surprises emerge. With the perpetual injuries at offensive line, the Redskins were expected to carry 9 or possible 10 on the final 53-man roster. This year it’s possible, they could keep up to 11 and sign a free agent in the coming weeks.
As previously mentioned, special teams are still an unfinished product and the running backs & receivers could be the beneficiaries. Fans should expect to see the starters play no more than a half tonight, with Gruden playing the conservative coach role, but the dress rehearsal gets us that much closer to week #1!