The Washington Redskins close out the preseason with a home game at FedEx Field at 7 p.m.
Most of the starters will not play in this game because Coach Mike Shanahan wants to rest them for the Sept. 9 season opener and avoid risk of injury. Redskins coaches also want to get a look at players battling for roster spots in advance of Friday’s final round of cuts.
Here’s a look at five story lines to follow in tonight’s preseason finale:
1.) Billy Cundiff’s debut – A day after releasing Neil Rackers, who was competing with Graham Gano for the starting kicking job, the Redskins parted with Gano as well and signed free agent Billy Cundiff, who was released by the Ravens on Sunday. Cundiff, who lost his job in Baltimore to an undrafted rookie, said he came to Washington over other teams because management told him the job be his without any competition. Interesting. We’ll see how Cundiff does tonight. One question, though. What happens if he comes out and misses?
2.) Running back competition – Rookie Alfred Morris won’t be playing tonight, which is a good sign regarding the Florida Atlantic product’s chances of making the roster. Shanahan expected Evan Royster to play, but was less certain about Tim Hightower (knee) and Roy Helu Jr. (Achilles’ tendons). Morris had the strongest performance of the preseason. Can anyone make a case that they — and not the rookie — should be the starter? Side note: Fullback Darrel Young, who has missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury, is expected to play tonight to help knock off the rust.
3.) Wide receivers – This has definitely been one of the most intriguing position battles of the preseason. Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss are locks. But who makes the squad after that? Anthony Armstrong has been a deep threat and strong special teams contributor in the past, but hasn’t shown much this year thanks partly to a shoulder injury. Dezmon Briscoe has a touchdown in back-to-back games but doesn’t play teams. Aldrick Robinson had a big game against Chicago, but hasn’t gotten the chance to return any kicks or punts, which could help his case. Terrence Austin has chipped in here and there as a receiver and return man, but hasn’t made a lot of noise. And Brandon Banks has a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, but hasn’t gotten a chance at wideout since the Buffalo game, which saw him struggle quite a bit. Who locks up the final two spots with strong play tonight?
4.) Young linemen – Guard/center Josh LeRibeus (third-rounder) seems set to make the 53-man roster, but fellow rookie Adam Gettis (fifth-rounder) has had an up and down camp, and could wind up on the practice squad. A strong performance during extended playing time tonight could change that, however. It appears that tackle Tom Compton (sixth-rounder) is a practice squad candidate as well. Second-year pro Willie Smith finds himself on shaky ground. The almost-retired Jordan Black came off the couch and onto the field and overtook him on the depth chart. Smith has the size and athletic ability. But coaches question his tenacity and drive.
5.) Defensive backs – The trade of Kevin Barnes to Detroit for an undisclosed pick seems to help the case of rookie Richard Crawford. Still, the SMU product would like to close out the preseason with a strong performance. He was playing with a stomach bug last week, and didn’t appear as sharp as in the two previous weeks. Meanwhile, Brandyn Thompson – drafted in the seventh round in 2011 and a member of the practice squad all of last year – had a near interception last week, but needs to shine as well. He, six-year veteran David Jones are competing with Crawford for those fourth and fifth cornerback slots.
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