The Washington Redskins will square off against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night at FedEx Field. The third preseason game is often a very telling tale of what fans can expect to see in Week 1 of the regular season, but will that be true in 2011? With a lockout shortened offseason, NFL teams may very well need that fourth preseason game as well to get ready. Normally, that game is reserved for determining depth positions and/or special teams, but expect to see evaluation throughout the lineup this year. So what should you look for tomorrow night?
Here are five things I’ll be watching closely:
Becksy or Rexy?
With the Shanahans doing their best impression of a bad magician, and trying to stuff that rabbit back into the hat, there have been many misdirection quotes this week from the coaching staff. Things like, ‘It doesn’t matter who starts, they will both play,’ really means, “Butt out. I ain’t telling you nothing.” Let’s face it, as much as a Redskin fan would love to postulate/guess/hypothesize/pontificate about who the starter is going to be, the Shanahans are not going to show anyone their hand. That’s a smart move. If they can keep the charade up to the first game of the regular season, then it will be very difficult for the New York Giants to key on one quarterback and game plan.
The reality of it though, is this: whomever starts against the Ravens, is almost assuredly the starter in week one barring any unforeseen circumstances. The Baltimore defense is formidable, and a great test for whichever quarterback gets the nod, so it’s a game that the coaches can really use to gauge where each quarterback is at, in terms of game readiness. So why would they put their second choice in first, and risk not getting to see their projected QB against the Ravens starters? Admittedly, the game will likely see a full half of football from all of the starters – that’s usually what happens in game 3 of the preseason – but there are no guarantees that it will shake out that way, especially with the condensed training camp. If the Ravens take ANY blue-chippers out before the Redskins could get in QB #2, then it’s hardly an accurate representation of the true starting defense.
So far there isn’t much between the two incumbents based on preseason play. Rex Grossman has a bad interception slightly marring his record, but he was also better at going downfield with the ball in both games. John Beck looked extremely solid against the Colts, but stumbled once they got to the red zone – hardly a preseason surprise – but perhaps worthy of note when there’s so little to choose in the race. In comparing apples to apples, both quarterbacks played really well with the other starters, and moved the ball very efficiently. Both will try to do the same again at FedEx tomorrow.
The Redskins’ staff will try and get both Beck and Grossman as much time as they can against the starters, so expect to see both in the first half; but take note of which guy is under center first. I’m guessing it will be Beck.
Maybe I’m the only guy, but I think Sellers is still going to make this team. He’s too valuable not to – he can back up Tight End, Fullback and is arguably the best special teams performer that the Redskins have. He has been a locker room leader in Washington for years, and continues to be, despite his tenuous situation. One only needs to look at how Sellers has continued to mentor fullback Darrell Young, to know what kind of a guy Big Mike is. He’s actually doing everything he can to help the guy that is trying to take his job. That’s PURE class. That’s the kind of intangible that a football team needs INSIDE the locker room. Washington’s youth movement has left them a little short on veteran leadership, so why not take a guy that can help fill so many roles? With Cooley still on the shelf, the added depth at tight end is extremely valuable. Keiland Williams is the first guy on most people’s FB depth chart – but not mine. Sure Williams can back up the running back position as well, but the Redskins don’t have a problem with depth there.
Sellers is going to get time at fullback and tight end this week, so watch for Big Mike to make a splash and a late push to earn a 2011 paycheck with the Redskins. One final thought – when your coach is moving you around and trying to find a place for you… he might be looking for a reason to keep you around – not necessarily to cut you. Mike has to give him that reason this week. I’ll go one further, and predict that Sellers catches a TD pass, and screams what I heard him scream at camp a few years ago, ‘I’m in the endzone B*tch!’
Yet another name that is left off some people’s predicted 53-man roster. Stallworth has played well, and will look to do the same or better against his old squad. The receiving corps in Washington is by far the tightest positional battle, and unfortunately Stallworth’s performance alone may not be enough. He more than likely has to establish himself as a top 4 receiver, (despite the fact that the Redskins could keep as many as 6) due to the fact that the Redskins will keep Leonard Hankerson regardless, and are trying to make sure that they can keep Terrence Austin around as well. So Stallworth can’t come in ‘6th place’ to make this team, he has to come in the top 4 in my opinion. Expect to see him get a lot of looks early to see how he fares against starters and not scrubs. Most of his duty has come later in games, but the coaches will need to evaluate his worth against the best, to determine if he should be on the roster. They will, or at least should, also call some routes that will show off his versatility. Most of his looks have been down the field, but Stallworth can work the slot as well. Get him the ball there, and let him show what he can do – he may be the best slot option after Santana Moss.
Surprise of the 2011 training camp? While a second rounder should be expected to contribute something, Jenkins has shown more than that so far. He got an added push last week because of Adam Carriker’s late scratch, and played very well. Carriker’s blisters may keep him out of the line-up for another week, and give Jarvis a longer look yet again this week. He isn’t vying for a roster spot obviously, he’s vying for a rotation in the starting line-up. If he can make a big splash this week against Baltimore, he may very well guarantee himself substantial playing time right from the word, ‘Go.’ He’s still learning the defense, so progression is all you can look and hope for, but Jenkins has overachieved all through camp, so look for another big game from the big rookie defensive end in his quest to crack that starting line-up.
After being released, and then brought back – it still looks like the inside linebacker job is McIntosh’s to lose. Perry Riley is expected to contribute more and more, but he’s playing after Mac and will continue to do so. Rocky faltered slightly last year in the 3-4 but has looked better in the 2011 preseason. The offseason addition of NT Barry Cofield looks like it’s going to be a bold stroke, and arguably his most important role will be to eat up double teams and free up the linebacking corps. McIntosh and the other linebackers weren’t getting that last year, but they are now, and they have to take advantage of it. Rocky has a chance to show that the position battle is over tomorrow night, and if he brings it, it will be.
Other than the roster battles, here are a couple more snippets that I’ll be looking for:
1) Fewer penalties than last week – particularly on special teams. The Redskins had 8 penalties against the Colts, and 4 of them were on teams. Danny Smith can’t be happy about that, so expect a stronger emphasis on disciplined play this week.
2) Red Zone improvement. It’s the preseason, red zone anemia is hardly a trait that is specific to the Redskins. Playbooks are condensed as much as the workable playing field is, so the vanilla nature of the play-calling has as much to do with the result as performance does. No team wants to go into the regular season feeling lke they are having trouble scoring though, so expect the playbook to open up a little bit inside the 20.
3) Some trickery. Yeah I know – silly rabbit, tricks are for kids; but if you have any funky plays that you want to test out, try it in the preseason. Even when you’re taking more of a conservative approach, tossing in a wild one in the preseason and being successful FORCES teams to honor the possibilities of it happening in the regular season. Fake a punt – try an onside kick for no reason – do something that will keep the opposition guessing. This isn’t necessarily something I expect to see, as much as it is something that I would like to see.
4) Progress. The Reskins have looked far better than most would have anticipated, and while it may mean next to nothing in the preseason, it starts to mean more and more with every game. If Washington can continue to get better, they will build on the confidence that seems to already be mounting. It doesn’t matter that the results don’t count, if the team feels like it’s getting better and is well prepared for opening day.
5) Injuries. Regular season is almost upon us, so injuries are definitely something that nobody wants to see. It’s football though, so injuries are part of the game – hopefully the Redskins put up a big zero in that department.