The Washington Redskins tonight will open the preseason on the road against the Buffalo Bills. After two weeks of training camp practices, the Redskins will finally face off against an actual opponent, and get a chance to gauge the progress they have made so far.
Here are five areas to watch in Preseason Game No. 1
1.) Robert Griffin III – Of course. All eyes will be on the Redskins’ rookie quarterback, who has been anointed as the savior of the franchise. Griffin will get 12 to 20 plays Thursday night, and although it will only be a bite-size serving, Redskins coaches will be looking for poise, solid and quick decision-making and execution. Griffin could find himself under a good amount of pressure with three starting offensive linemen sidelined by injury. But, injuries are part of the game, and if Griffin can do well behind the substitutes, that will be a source of encouragement as well.
2.) Running backs – Evan Royster gets the initial nod as he auditions for the starting running back job. Fellow second-year back Roy Helu Jr. will also get a chance to carry the ball. Mike Shanahan said he doesn’t know how the running back competition will shake out, especially with Tim Hightower still working his way back from ACL surgery. This game gives Royster a chance to make a strong opening statement. Coaches like his field vision and running instincts. They want to see continued consistency, and strong pass protection out of Royster and his fellow backs.
3.) Kicking competition – Graham Gano and Neil Rackers’ duel begins in earnest Thursday night. The two have kicked head-to-head in practices, but the heat rises on game days. As special teams coach Danny Smith said, “It’s about the execution under pressure. We’re going to try to put them in those pressure situations and see who executes the best.” Gano last season beat out Shayne Graham in the preseason. Can the fourth-year pro out-kick another seasoned veteran?
4.) Safety battle – Who starts at free safety is the biggest mystery of the defense. Brandon Meriweather has the strong safety spot all but locked up. Meanwhile, Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson, DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty are competing for the other starting safety. Williams has the most NFL experience, and is a good communicator. Meanwhile, Gomes and Doughty have both played in the system, which helps. Jackson may be the best athlete of the bunch, but is working his way back into the mix after missing time with injury. He is expected to play extensively Thursday.
5.) Jarvis Jenkins – The 2011 second-round pick is starting all over after tearing his ACL in the third week of the preseason last year and missing all of his rookie campaign. The Redskins believe that he will be a force along the defensive line as he rotates in and out at both the left and right end spots, and also plays a key role in the nickel defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive line coach Jacob Burney say Jenkins spent the offseason practices re-training his body how to play football. It sounds as if Jenkins still isn’t 100 percent back to where he was prior to his injury, but he continues to make strides. Haslett said things have started to click for Jenkins in the last three practices. They hope to see that carry over into the preseason opener.