Areas to monitor as the battered Redskins prepare for Bills

After three trying days – a loss to Carolina on Sunday, confirmation that Tim Hightower is done for the year on Monday, and placing Chris Cooley on injured reserve on Tuesday – the Washington Redskins get back to work to prepare for Sunday’s meeting with the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.

The Redskins must quickly pick up the pieces, patch holes and tighten things up here and there. The Bills (4-2), meanwhile, are coming off their bye and are ready for their third straight meeting with an NFC East foe (They beat Philly 31-24 three weeks ago and then fell 27-24 to the New York Giants).

At 3-3, the Redskins still have plenty of time to rebound, but can they do that with so many key players missing?

Here are five areas to monitor as Washington gears up for Buffalo.

> The replacements – Injuries to offensive starters means an unexpected youth movement. Anthony Armstrong and Niles Paul will duel for Santana Moss’ starting job, and we should be seeing a lot more of Terrence Austin and Leonard Hankerson as well. At running back, Ryan Torain looks to re-establish himself and Roy Helu’s duties should expand as well. Will the Redskins promote fellow rookie Evan Royster from the practice squad?

> Fletcher’s streak – Just how serious is linebacker London Fletcher’s hamstring injury? The Redskins will find out Wednesday when he tests it out after two days of rest. If the middle linebacker can’t play Sunday, it means the end of his consecutive starts streak (169 games), and his league-best run of 214 consecutive games played, which he shares with Rhonde Barber.

> Defensive preparation – Mike Shanahan said he needs to do a better job of preparing his team, and later explained that he didn’t think his defense was ready for what the Panthers threw at it (was he throwing Jim Haslett under the bus?). The unit has struggled against the run, and in the turnover department. They brace for another strong rushing attack, and an offense that averages 31 points a game. They’d better be ready this week.

> Williams and Atogwe’s status – Left tackle Trent Williams continued to walk with a limp Monday, a full eight days after suffering a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the Panthers game. It seems unlikely that he could return Sunday. Meanwhile, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe hopes to get back on the field. But that’s far from certain. He didn’t even bother testing out his injured knee Sunday because it was too painful. Both injuries create big holes on an already beat up squad.

> Quarterback play – With a full game under his belt, John Beck looks to improve upon his showing on Sunday. He did some good things, but obviously has areas where he can improve as he tries to prove that he can be the guy. Also, Rex Grossman’s health is a question mark. He spent 48 hours in the hospital with pneumonia and Shanahan hoped he could return today or Thursday. If not, will the Redskins activate practice squad QB Jonathan Crompton?

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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