Redskins make final roster cuts to get down to NFL’s 53-man limit

A trio of undrafted first-year players earned spots on the Washington Redskins’ initial 53-man roster as the team made its final cuts to get down to the league limit by Saturday’s deadline.

College free agent Silas Redd emerged from a four-way battle for the final running back position — a competition that Coach Jay Gruden had described as the stiffest of the preseason. Safety Akeem Davis beat out 2013 fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas for one of the final spots in the secondary. And punter Tress Way wrestled those duties from third-year veteran Robert Malone despite having just signed with Washington on Aug 20.

Five players drafted in the past two years were released on cutdown day.

Redd went undrafted out of USC after battling injuries as a junior and senior. But the promise of his sophomore season at Penn State — a 1,241-yard, seven-touchdown campaign that preceded the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which prompted Redd to transfer — made the 5-foot-10, 212-pound back an intriguing prospect.

Redd beat out former Penn State teammate Evan Royster (a fourth-year pro and 2011 sixth-round pick), Chris Thompson (a fifth-round pick in 2013) and Lache Seastrunk (seventh-round pick this spring) for duties behind Pro Bowl back Alfred Morris and primary third-down back Roy Helu Jr.

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Redd led Washington in the preseason with 157 rushing yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. He also had three catches for 26 yards. He displayed an ability to both churn out hard yards on runs between the tackles and use his speed to get outside.

Redskins coaches liked Thompson’s speed, elusiveness and pass-catching ability. But durability was an issue for him as he managed to play in only two preseason games after missing portions of the past three seasons (one in the NFL and two in college).

Seastrunk shined Thursday night, scoring on an 80-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass. But he also displayed a need for growth this preseason. The team would like to re-sign him to its practice squad if he goes unclaimed.

Royster, a Westfield High grad, spent the past three seasons with Washington after the team selected him in the sixth round out of Penn State. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry in six appearances (two starts) as a rookie, and then served as the primary third-down back in 2012, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per catch. Royster played only sparingly on offense last season, however. A lack of speed and physicality hurt him in the eyes of his coaches.

Davis used strong special teams play, as well as aggression on defense, to take advantage of opportunities created by Thomas’s injury problems.

Coaches had high hopes for Thomas, a strong safety selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of Fresno State. But he missed all of last season because of a foot injury that required surgery. Thomas made strides this offseason, and coaches saw him as a potential long-term solution at strong safety and planned on grooming him behind Brandon Meriweather. However, Thomas struggled to stay on the field this preseason, missing time with hamstring and foot injuries.

Davis, who went undrafted out of Memphis in 2012 and spent 2013 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater before Washington scouts noticed him at a regional combine this offseason and he impressed coaches with his knowledge in classroom sessions. He had his best outing in the preseason finale.

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“He’s a force to be reckoned with on special teams, and we mentioned it before – if you’re going to make your mark, make it on special teams. Make it difficult,” Gruden said. “He did some very good things at safety, too.”

Washington cut Malone on Friday evening, and on Saturday, opted to keep Way, who averaged 51.5 yards on two punts Thursday night – his only game played for the Redskins. The former Oklahoma standout struggled with consistency with Chicago this preseason, but impressed Redskins coaches enough to earn a spot on the initial roster.

The Redskins entered Saturday needing to make 14 roster moves to meet the 53-man limit.

The team placed defensive end Stephen Bowen and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (both rehabbing from knee surgeries) on the regular season physically unable to perform list. As members of the PUP list, Hankerson and Bowen can’t begin practicing until after Week 6.

The Redskins also placed nose tackle Chris Neild on injured reserve after he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Thursday, and put inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain.

Washington also waived rookie kicker Zach Hocker (a seventh-round pick this year), awarding the job to third-year veteran Kai Forbath. The other Redskins cuts included cornerback Chase Minnifield, offensive lineman Maurice Hurt, wide receiver Nick Williams and outside linebacker Everette Brown.

Meriweather, who will miss the first two games of the season while on suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit, was placed on the reserve/suspended list.

Other bubble players that survived the cuts included inside linebacker Will Compton (who spent all of his 2013 rookie season on the practice squad), fellow inside linebacker Akeem Jordan, defensive linemen Clifton Geathers and Frank Kearse, outside linebacker Gabe Miller (who beat out Brown), and offensive linemen Josh LeRibeus and Tom Compton (both 2012 draft picks, who have been slow in their development thus far).

The team can begin signing players to its 10-man practice squad at noon on Sunday.

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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