Thursday night’s preseason finale between the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries a good deal of importance. Coach Mike Shanahan and his assistants will try to take one more look at dueling quarterbacks John Beck and Rex Grossman while they also give the starting offensive and defensive units a final dress rehearsal for the regular seasonBut some players are hoping that Shanahan doesn’t play his starters too long.
For players on the bubble, Thursday represents a final opportunity to impress coaches, who on Saturday must slash the roster from 80 players to 53, and then settle upon eight additional players for the practice squad.
“It’s more pressure-packed,” says rookie nose tackle Chris Neild, whom Washington drafted in the seventh round out of West Virginia. “It’s all dwindling down to the last cut, so you just have to make a lasting impression and hope the coaches side with you and want you on the team.”
Neild finds himself behind two veterans, starter Barry Cofield and second-stringer Anthony Bryant. Neild has seen his reps in practice increase in the last week as Jim Haslett and his defensive staff try to get a better feel of what he can do for the team. But in addition to trying to prove himself on defense, Neild also is hoping that special teams contributions help his case as well. He has lined up on the kickoff return and field goal units.
“There’s three key components to a game, offense, defense, special teams,” Neild says. “They only dress 46 players on gameday, so everyone has to have som role on special teams. I knew that coming in, so whagtever impact i can make, i try to do.”
Neild’s fellow rookies also feel the same view about the special teams unit. Niles Paul, playing at a crowded wide receiver position, has one catch for 16 yards. On special teams, he has averaged 32.5 yards on a pair of kick returns, with a long of 44, and 9.8 yards on four punt returns. Paul excelled on special teams in college and doesn’t mind using that as his ticket into the NFL.
Fellow rookie running back Evan Royster never played special teams in college, but he willingly took it up once training camp began.
Like other rookies, Royster doesn’t know how much he will play Thursday night, or how cutdown day will play out Saturday. He has been trying to focus on preparing for the Buccaneers, but Saturday still looms large.
“I was talking to some of the guys about it … who’ve kind of been through the whole thing,” Royster said. “Couple of them said they never saw it coming. You’ve just got to be prepared for the worst and prepared for the best.”
Staff writer Rick Maese contributed to this report.