The Jay Gruden era begins as the Redskins host the New England Patriots (7:30 p.m., Thursday, NBC) in their preseason opener. After seven months of talk, fans will get a glimpse of the new coach’s offense under finally healthy quarterback Robert Griffin III. Starters won’t play long, but at least they’ll face a top team for a quick reality check. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is supposedly unchained for a more aggressive unit. Special teams must be better, right? Here are five things to watch:
1. Griffin vs. the Patriots’ pass rush
How well can a remade offensive line protect Robert Griffin III and how well can he play as a pocket passer? The third-year quarterback tends to think he can always make the pass no matter how much pressure he’s under. Will Griffin learn that not every play is manageable? And will he run freely without his brace? His speed was intoxicating during camp.
2. Redskins secondary
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shredded the Redskins during the joint practices this week, but he was under limited pressure. The Redskins’ secondary will face Brady for only a series or two, but Washington will see if second-year cornerback David Amerson is ready to start and whether the safeties can be trusted. The secondary’s play this season will largely decide the Redskins’ fate.
3. Special teams
Was there ever a worse unit than last year’s special teams? They couldn’t return, cover or kick. The Redskins invested in special teamers over the offseason and hired a new coach, but they need some smackdowns on coverage to gain confidence. Andre Roberts appears a big upgrade at kick returner, but punt returner appears uncertain. Watch rookie kicker Zach Hocker’s long kickoffs.
4. Murphy’s luck
Rookie linebacker Trent Murphy has been overlooked during camp, but the Redskins’ top draft pick has looked good. His spin move isn’t predictable, and he has good strength and speed to reach the backfield. But we’ll have to see his pass-rushing moves in a game (or 10) before we know if he’s effective. Murphy tends to go better inside than outside. The Redskins need to find him snaps.
5. Gruden’s play-calling
With only two new starters, this may be Jay Gruden’s offense but it’s still predecessor Mike Shanahan’s roster. Can Gruden put his stamp on the offense? And how different will it really be? Has he altered RGIII’s style? Sadly, Thursday night will provide few answers. But it’s Gruden’s first chance as a head coach, so look for the little things like timeouts, challenges and half-time adjustments.
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