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Difficult Decisions Await Redskins as Preseason Winds Down

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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

In the month that has passed since training camp opened, the Washington Redskins have sweated through 39 practices, three preseason games and a handful of burning questions and important decisions.

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In the next several days -- the final week of preseason -- they'll attempt to declare victors in the few remaining position battles, travel 700 miles for one final preseason game and pass out pink slips to one-third of the players currently crammed into the Redskins Park locker room.

If Friday's 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots game provided a final test for the first-stringers, expect the Redskins' final exhibition game Thursday night at Jacksonville to be focused more on the bottom of the depth chart. It's a game of survival for the fringe players.

By Tuesday, Coach Jim Zorn and his staff must trim the roster to 75, which means five players currently on the roster won't even make it to Jacksonville. By Saturday, 22 more will be sent to the unemployment line, as rosters across the league shrink to 53.

"There's still a lot of question marks that we have to find out some answers by some of the things that are still clouded," Zorn said. "The competition is stiff. Everybody's competing hard for a spot on this team. We're going to challenge a lot of those guys in that next game."

Leading up to Friday's game against the Patriots, coaches didn't hide the fact that the Redskins' starters would play at least a full half. But looking ahead to the final preseason game, even Zorn says he isn't certain how much playing time the first-team offense and defense will see -- if any.

"I haven't decided that yet," Zorn said Saturday afternoon. "Part of that will be how we work through these next couple of days. But we're not going to see the starters like we did this week. It'll be very cut down."

The team opened its camp last month with question marks dotting its regular season forecast. Since then, coaches have said that Todd Collins will again back up quarterback Jason Campbell, third-year lineman Stephon Heyer will start at right tackle, second-year safety Chris Horton will retain his starting job and first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo is capable of splitting time at defensive end and linebacker.

With two weeks remaining before the season opener at the New York Giants, Zorn must decide whether Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly has supplanted Antwaan Randle El as the team's No. 2 wide receiver; whether Chase Daniel or Colt Brennan will be the No. 3 quarterback; if rookie Marko Mitchell will make the roster as a fifth wide receiver despite his inexperience on special teams; whether there's a way in which speedy tailback Marcus Mason can make the roster; and whether he's seen enough from Dave Rayner to replace incumbent place kicker Shaun Suisham.

"I'm waiting for the last possible minute to have to make that choice because there's no clear-cut guy," Zorn said of the battle between the kickers.

In the early days of training camp, five players were battling for the Redskins' fifth wideout spot -- Keith Eloi, D.J. Hackett, Marques Hagans, Trent Shelton and Mitchell. Four players have combined for six preseason catches. The fifth, Mitchell, has five receptions by himself, including a pair of touchdowns in three games. Zorn wouldn't say Saturday whether the seventh-round draft pick from Nevada has separated himself from the pack.

"That's a good question," Zorn said. "I'm not sure about that yet, but he's definitely been impressive. One more game. He's going to be here next week to play again. We hope that he continues to show his improvements."


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