All eyes will be on the Washington Redskins’ quarterback position tonight, but the date with the Steelers also marks the debuts of the 12 rookie draft picks.
Ryan Kerrigan is expected to start at left outside linebacker, and he was mentioned in the Five Things to Watch post from just a little earlier. Expectations for the Purdue product should be tempered considering he’s learning a new position and missed a week of practice.
Rushing the quarterback will be different since he’s coming off the edge out of a two-point stance rather than three-point stance. But the main challenge will be dropping into pass coverage. Redskins coaches are aware of this, but want to see solid effort and good recognition from Kerrigan when he is in the game.
Here’s how the other 11 Redskins rookies can help themselves tonight versus the Steelers.
DE Jarvis Jenkins – Big and physical, Jenkins could wind up having the best outing of any Redskins rookie, but he too is learning a new position (switching from 4-3 defensive tackle to end in the 3-4). Right now, he’s still over-thinking at times, but is able to use his size, strength and explosiveness to compensate for a lack of experience. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said technique is an area Jenkins can improve upon as he learns. Coaches would be pleased if he can be disruptive despite that he very much is a work in progress.
RBs Roy Helu and Evan Royster – Without Ryan Torain, the Redskins will start Tim Hightower but the rookies will get their chances. Helu has speed like no other back on the roster. If he can make some cuts and big gains, he will further earn his coaches’ trust as he auditions to be a key contributor and change of pace back for Washington. Royster isn’t as flashy, and hasn’t stood out as much as a ball carrier in practice. But he is working to improve his pass-protection skills, hoping that that third-down back’s role could be his.
WRs Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson – Hankerson has shown real flashes in camp, but he’s also struggled at making easy catches. Now it’s game time, and Coach Mike Shanahan insists, “You can tell just looking at him that he’s got big-game capability.” Hankerson needs to deliver now. Paul has been steady in camp, and appears to be a solid route runner with good hands. Constancy will be key for him. Robinson hasn’t stood out as much, but he – along with Paul – can help their cases for a roster spot by making contributions on special teams where they could see action in the returns department.
DBs DeJon Gomes and Brandyn Thompson – Gomes has been splitting time between free safety and strong safety, and although he’s showed promise here and there, the Nebraska product still is a ways off, Shanahan says. He’s having to learn a lot very quickly, and limiting mistakes will show he’s making progress. Thompson is playing at a rather crowded position and hasn’t really shown much in practices.
LB Markus White – The Florida State product has shown good athleticism and speed, but his pass-rushing repertoire is rather limited. Veterans know how to fend him off. He’s converting from end to linebacker, so it will take a bit, but special teams play is another area he can catch coaches’ eyes.
OL Maurice Hurt – He’s battling with last year’s seventh-round pick, Selvish Capers, for a roster spot. Hurt played guard in college but has gotten in some snaps at tackle as well. He hasn’t looked particularly impressive, but he doesn’t appear to struggle as much as has Capers, who also is splitting time between guard and tackle. Hurt can help himself with a solid showing..
NT Chris Neild – Having played nose tackle for West Virginia, Neild is seeing some of the same things in the Redskins’ scheme as he was accustomed to, and that’s helping. He’s strong and gets good leverage, but still has things to learn as he battles more experienced players in the trenches. He also has been used on some special teams packages, so while he probably won’t exactly light it up on defense, execution along the front lines of the field goal and punt units can help him.