It may have been a short week for the Washington Redskins, but it certainly was not short on drama.
From a quarterback controversy to a suspension to a “will he or won’t he” scenario that had Coach Jay Gruden playing his starters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Thursday, the Redskins certainly do not look like a team ready for the start of the regular season.
Many are blaming Redskins great Joe Theismann for at least stirring the quarterback controversy pot with his problematic comments to ESPN, but it’s Robert Griffin III’s production — or lack thereof — that ignited the debate in the first place. Let’s be honest, there is no quarterback controversy in Washington, regardless of what Theismann or the thousands of fans calling for a switch behind center are suggesting. It cannot, however, be what Gruden or Griffin envisioned for the offence after three preseason games, the last of which was RG3’s worst outing.
Even with the offense sputtering, Gruden announced on Tuesday that he had no plans of playing his starters against the Bucs, allowing every Redskins fan to exhale. Then begs the question: was Gruden purposely vanilla this preseason, stunting the offence and Griffin’s efficiency or is Griffin and the starting offense as bad as they appear?
We’ll have to wait until Sept. 9 in Houston to find out.
With the first round of cuts in the books, the dreaded and often ugly fourth preseason game will be the last chance for players on the bubble to put some plays on tape. All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players in advance of the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday, Aug. 30.
There will a number of positions up for grabs when the Redskins travel to Tampa Bay on Thursday, Aug. 28. Kickoff from Raymond James Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet will broadcast the game to a local audience. The game can also be heard on the Redskins Radio Network.
Third Running Back: Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. haven’t set the world on fire this preseason but they’re not going anywhere. They are locks for this squad and should be. The question is, who is going to be No. 3, joining Morris, Helu Jr., and fullback Darryl Young on the Redskins roster?
Rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd have been spotty but impressive, while incumbent Evan Royster has done everything he can to outplay fellow veteran Chris Thompson.
It is no secret that fans and coaches love Thompson, thanks to his world-class speed, but the guy can’t stay on the field. Gruden went as far as suggesting on Tuesday that the second-year pro needed to learn how to play through pain; not exactly what you would call a glowing endorsement. With Andre Roberts handling returns, Thompson is going to need a miracle to make this team, and chances are he’s not going to find one in Tampa.
Royster has been quietly doing what he’s done since the Redskins drafted him in 2011 — make plays. Not gifted with tremendous speed, Royster has good hands and can be a hard runner when he wants to be. He has shown in the past that if he’s given a chance, he can reel off a 100-yard game or two. With both Seastrunk and Redd battling Royster for one, perhaps two spots, this is going to come down to a numbers game for Royster.
Right now, those numbers are not stacked in his favor, and he will most likely join Thompson on the unemployment line. If the Redskins decide to carry four running backs on the roster, look for them stash Redd on the practice squad if he’s not snatched up first.
Safety Valve: Thanks to his second suspension in as many years, safety Brandon Merriweather will miss the first two games of the regular season, baring the outcome of an appeal, once again leaving Washington coaches scrambling to find a square peg to stuff in a round hole.
With Philip Thomas sidelined with a foot injury, Bacarri Rambo and EJ Biggers, neither natural strong safeties, will be called upon to fill the void. This may be a blessing in disguise for Rambo, who DeAngelo Hall called the preseason’s best defender.
After what can only be considered a disastrous rookie campaign that saw Rambo miss more tackles than he made, he lost what could have been a starting free safety gig to veteran Ryan Clark. The Redskins are no doubt hoping Rambo can be that square peg in Merriweather’s absence, but if he’s not, Biggers has made a career of filling in where he’s needed, splitting time between corner and safety for the Skins last season, and is capable of being a stopgap for two games.
Merriweather’s suspension, combined with Thomas’s injury, which requires a trip to Dr. James Anderson in North Carolina, could end up being yet another reason for coaches to find a place on the roster for rookie linebacker-turned-safety, Akeem Davis, who is a tremendous athlete and has impressed many this offseason. It will be fun to see if Davis can continue to make an impact on Thursday and find his way onto the team.
All Hands on Deck: It has been a long time since the Redskins have had too many talented wide receivers, a problem Gruden has no trouble accepting.
We know Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Andre Roberts are 1-2-3 respectively on the depth chart, leaving spots four, five and six up for grabs. For anyone who’s watched a game this preseason, you know Ryan Grant, a 2014 fifth-round pick out of Tulane, has wrapped up one of those remaining spots, meaning veterans Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Nick Williams, and Aldrick Robinson are left fighting for the scraps.
Robinson has been productive this preseason, albeit against second and third stringers, and has, along with Grant, been a favorite of Kirk Cousins. Once a one-trick pony, Robinson has also shown this preseason that he is more than just a burner, flashing good hands and making the tough catches in traffic. Moss has been steady, and has shown he still has some burst, which may be enough to entice Gruden to make him the sixth wideout heading into the regular season. Although coaches love his size, look for the oft-injured Hankerson to join Williams as the odd men out.
Stay Healthy: There’s going to be 22 men cleaning out their lockers on Saturday. Up to 10 can be added to Washington’s practice squad, while the others will be released. Of those, some may find employment with another team.
An injury can change all of that.
Sure coaches will be looking for players to put plays on tape, to impress, to win a job, but what they are really hoping for is an injury-free 60 minutes of football. There will be players on the field Thursday who will end up playing important roles for the 2014 Redskins, whether as a backup or special teams.
With their 22 starters set, the Redskins have one goal: survive Thursday.
Joe Mercer is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A communications specialist with a municipal government north of the border, Joe is an aspiring author with close to 20 years experience in the newspaper business. Starting as a sports reporter covering the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts for a small daily newspaper in Barrie, Ontario, Joe is also a self-taught graphic designer with more than a dozen regional and national newspaper awards to his credit. A Redskins fanatic since the early 80s, Joe has often made the 12-hour journey from his hometown 45 minutes north of Toronto to Washington for both training camp and regular season games. You can follow Joe on Twitter @stylesmcfresh.