Redskins vs. Bucs: Five story lines to monitor in Thursday’s preseason finale

August 27, 2014
The Washington Post's Jason Reid and Mike Jones break down the Redskins' final preseason game against the Buccaneers. (Randolph Smith/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins on Thursday play their final game of the preseason, and for many players, it’s crunch time. Team officials and coaches will use Thursday’s performances to help solidify their opinions of players in advance of the final roster cuts that will take place Friday and Saturday.

Coach Jay Gruden has opted not to play his starters, to spare them from risk of injury. He had considered playing his offensive starters after their unit struggled so mightily last week against Baltimore.

But Gruden decided instead that one series or two against Tampa Bay wouldn’t make much of a difference, and that the risk of a season-ending injury to key players was too great. He also believed the need to further evaluate players battling for roster spots carried greater importance.

“Let the backups play so, we can solidify those roles, very important,” Gruden said explaining his decision. “I think we have our starters. In general, we feel pretty good about who they are and now we need to find the key backups and who they are and make sure they get the ample reps to make the football team and show what they can do on the field.”

Indeed, Washington does have uncertainty hovering over a number of impending decisions on key reserve/rotational players. Gruden hopes things sort themselves out Thursday night.

Here’s a look at five story lines to follow against the Bucs.

Robert Griffin III, Chris Thompson
Robert Griffin III won’t be handing off to him on Thursday night, but Chris Thompson needs to do something positive when he gets the ball. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

1.) Thompson’s last shot? – Coaches don’t hide their excitement about the potential second-year running back Chris Thompson boasts. He’s fast and elusive, he would provide a game-changing element to the backfield behind Pro Bowl workhorse Alfred Morris. But Gruden also hasn’t hid the fact that there are serious concerns about Thompson’s durability. Seriously injured as a junior and senior in college, and as a rookie in the NFL, Thompson again had a bout with injury bug this preseason, missing the past two preseason games with a low-ankle sprain. Finally healthy again, Gruden and his assistants want to see what Thompson can do in games, and they want to see that he can emerge from this contest uninjured. Thompson understands the urgency of the moment. “Practice wasn’t good enough. I did good enough at practices, but I’ve got to go out there and show it on Thursday, that I can translate into a game. … It’s very important for me. … I’ve just got to show them I can make it through some games, and I will show them that.” Thompson has Evan Royster, Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd all vying for the same roster spot. All have had their bright spots while he’s been sidelined. Now he needs a big night.

2.) Strong safety candidates – Brandon Meriweather’s suspension now sends coaches scrambling to find the player most capable of filling in at strong safety for the first two weeks of the regular season. Bacarri Rambo gets the first crack. Coaches see him as much improved as a tackler. The second-year pro, who as a rookie was quickly benched because of tackling woes, actually ranks among the team leaders this preseason. He also has a forced fumble to his credit. Phillip Thomas would contend for this job, but instead, he’s sidelined with injury again. Meanwhile, third-year pro Trenton Robinson and undrafted rookie Akeem Davis aim to make strong cases for themselves when their numbers are called at this position.

3.) Kicking battle – Kai Forbath and rookie Zack Hocker get one last faceoff after two even performances in preseason outings 2 and 3. Hocker has shown great poise, which is uncommon at this position for a rookie, as well as leg strength. Forbath has displayed improved leg strength on kickoffs. But has he done enough to make coaches forget about his misses (one nullified because of a penalty) in the preseason opener?

4.) Special-teams contributors – As they look to round out the roster with the final dozen or so players, Redskins brass will ensure that all of those players excel on special teams. Gruden said he has “made it clear that if it’s close in a position battle, we’re keeping the better special team player, and that’s just a fact.” Already, we saw Washington cut longtime backup outside linebacker Rob Jackson in favor of new additions Everette Brown and Gabe Miller because both do better on special teams. Similar decisions will follow. Crowded wide receiver and defensive back positions will come down to performances on this level. Guys like Akeem Davis, Royster, Redd and Seastrunk, wide receivers Nick Williams and Lee Doss, and linebackers Akeem Jordan are well aware of this fact.

5.) Moses on the right – Redskins coaches last week hoped to see what third-round pick Morgan Moses had to offer at the right tackle position (the position they drafted him to play long-term) after easing him into the pro game at his natural position at left tackle. But Moses got hurt early, and didn’t return. Thursday they’ll be watching closely. They want him to prove he can play at that spot at a high level. It’s hard to say if they would keep two backup tackles (Moses and second-year pro Tom Compton). So versatility is key.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More from The Post:

Mailbag: Roster projections and QB ‘controversy’

A Tampa Bay homecoming for Gruden

Gordon loses appealBog: Vincent explains Meriweather suspension

Maske: NFL teams putting hold on start to rookie QBs’ careers

More NFL: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats | Fantasy

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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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Mike Jones · August 27, 2014