Redskins vs. Bills: Five story lines to follow in Preseason Game 3

August 23, 2013

Rookie running back Chris Thompson is eager to prove himself in Saturday’s preseason game. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins on Saturday return to FedEx Field, where they will host the Buffalo Bills in each team’s third preseason game.

Washington and Buffalo have each won their first two outings of the preseason.
Things will play out a bit differently than they normally would in a third preseason game for Washington’s starters. Because of the short turnaround, Mike Shanahan expects to limit the first team offense and defense to around 20 plays. Then, the backups and those still battling for roster spots will take over.

Here are five story lines to follow in Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m.

1.) Baccari Rambo’s tackling – The rookie free safety remains under the microscope as he continues his acclimation to the NFL. The last line of defense, Rambo is charged not only with providing strong downfield coverage, but also providing strong support against the run and making plays in the open field. Rambo hasn’t had any obvious struggles in coverage, but tackling remains a weakness. He whiffed on two more plays in Monday night’s game – this after failing to make two touchdown-saving tackles in the first preseason game. Rambo did, however, fly into the backfield on a blitz, tackle Jonathan Dwyer behind the line of scrimmage and force a fumble. So that’s a positive. But Rambo still is learning how to take the proper angles and play with more aggression. Jim Haslett said that he always sees Rambo fly up within four yards of the line of scrimmage just as he should on run plays, so he’s getting in the right position. But hesitancy and execution after that is the problem. Haslett said,

“Now, obviously, the tackling is a concern. But that’s something he’s willing to do and we’ve got to keep working at it. It’s not the will to tackle. It’s the angles that he’s got to come at. When he gets in line, he had a couple of bad angles, but I think he can correct that, because it’s not that he doesn’t want to tackle. You see players that kind of shy away from it. He’s up there, he’s up in the fray of things, he’s up in the mix, so we’ve just got to get him to take the right angle, and he’s got to understand that we don’t care how he gets them down, he’s just got to get them down – grab tackles, wrap tackles, knife tackles, you know, however he gets them down, he needs to work on the angle a little bit.”

After Monday night’s game, Steelers 12th-year safety Ryan Clark talked to Rambo and gave the rookie some tips. His coaches and veteran teammates continue to share knowledge as well. What kind of improvements will he make?

2.) Rookie running backsChris Thompson and Jawan Jamison still feel like they have much to prove and hope that their opportunities will increase on Saturday. Jamison received five late-game carries Monday night and gained a total of 20 yards. Thompson, meanwhile, rushed for 14 yards on three carries, but fumbled on his last carry and left the game with an injured shoulder that he says has now healed. As of now, their chances of overtaking Roy Helu and Evan Royster appear bleak. Fourth-year veteran Keiland Williams also has done well, gaining 50 yards on 10 preseason carries. Thompson and Jamison both believe they can shine if given substantial workloads. They remained in the dark as to what Saturday’s plans hold for them. They aim to make the most of whatever opportunities they get. Can either force their way onto the team with a strong showing Saturday night?

3.) Tempo test – With the Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly’s high-paced offense first up to start the season, the Redskins defensive players believe that Buffalo will give them a good opportunity to prepare, because the Bills run a similar attack. Rather than milking the clock and operating at a methodical pace, the Eagles and Bills try to cram in as many offensive plays in as possible and keep things moving to put the pressure on the defense and prevent them from substituting frequently. This will test the conditioning of Washington’s defenders, as well as their ability to adjust on the fly. The Redskins are expected to have Brian Orakpo back in the mix, so their starting front seven will be reunited for this preview performance.

4.) Wilson and Barnett’s debuts – The Redskins welcome cornerback Josh Wilson and linebacker Nick Barnett to action after each veteran spent the first two preseason games on the sideline while he continued to work his way back from offseason surgery. Wilson has started at right cornerback in each of the past two seasons for Washington, but rookie David Amerson has manned that spot while Wilson has been strengthening a surgically repaired shoulder. In practices, however, Wilson has often started, and then moved inside to cover the opposing slot receiver while DeAngelo Hall and Amerson cover receivers on the outside. Saturday night will provide a preview of Haslett’s plans for his top three corners. Meanwhile, Barnett – signed Aug. 1 to bolster the inside linebacker position behind London Fletcher and Perry Riley – has worked his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery while also learning Washington’s defense. He has good familiarity with the schemes from playing in it at Green Bay. Now he has reached an adequate comfort level. This week, he began making all the defensive calls while lining up at ‘mike’ linebacker when relieving Fletcher. Barnett is eager to show his capabilities and said this week, “If they let the lion off the chain, then I’ll be out there roaming the jungle.”

5.) Special teams play – Every year, this area has been the ticket for undrafted rookies and players on the bubble. An ability to record either big tackles in coverage or lengthy returns is the way to catch the coaches’ eyes and prove you have some value despite lacking starter-level talent. Skye Dawson, Nick Williams and Chip Reeves comprise the trio of undrafted rookie wide receivers who are jockeying for a roster spot as kick/punt return men. But so far, their opportunities have been limited. Dawson has received the most work, returning four punts against Pittsburgh and averaging 13.3 yards per. Safety Jose Gumbs and cornerback Jerome Murphy, who find themselves buried on the depth chart behind veterans on defense, each recorded a nice special teams tackle last week, and look to make more plays. Meanwhile, young veterans like wide receiver Aldrick Robinson and running backs Williams and Royster – both backups at their positions – have all chipped in with some solid special teams stops, which could help their cases as they show additional versatility.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

● On Friday, the team has a walkthrough before Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game against the Bills.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Haslett to give view from the box another try

K. Shanahan says Griffin’s throwing mechanics are sound

Wise: Fletcher is a good man in a mad culture

Linebacker comes clean about concussion, wonders about his future

The Early Lead: ESPN pulls out of PBS concussion project | Farhi story

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

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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Mark Maske · August 23, 2013

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