By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 4, 2010; 12:08 AM
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Their preseason finished, Washington Redskins players filed out of University of Phoenix Stadium and headed straight to the airport. The overnight flight that awaited them was the farthest they would travel all year. It was a long time in the air to collect one's thoughts.
After five weeks of practices and four preseason games, for the fringe players who hope to make the Redskins' Week 1 roster, there's only one thing left to do.
"Hold your breath," said wide receiver Brandon Banks, an undrafted rookie.
Thursday night's 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a final audition for many players. Coach Mike Shanahan sat 31 players, including all 22 starters. The remaining 44 were trying to take advantage of the extra playing time. The prize: a chance to return to Redskins Park and continue practicing next week in preparation for the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Shanahan said only six of the 53 roster spots were up for grabs Thursday night, though he declined to provide more details. Per league rules, the roster must be trimmed from 75 players to 53 on Saturday afternoon. Following the loss to the Cardinals, Shanahan was evasive when describing specific players' chances of sticking on the roster.
"We had a chance to evaluate more players today and that was our goal going in," he said.
Shanahan wouldn't even offer any guarantees to the players who didn't dress and play in Thursday's game. While it would seem that players such as Anthony Armstrong and Larry Johnson were being rewarded with a night off, Shanahan wouldn't commit to their spots on the 53-man roster.
"I didn't want them to play today because they've had enough reps and [I] wanted to get a chance to look at some of those other players," he said. "But no, just because somebody didn't dress, it's not because they're necessarily on the football team."
While Armstrong and Johnson might have reason to feel optimistic after turning in strong training camps, there are several other players who can only replay preseason games in their minds, wondering if they did enough to impress coaches.
"It's in the coaches' hands now," said second-year linebacker Robert Henson, who led all players Thursday with seven tackles despite a knee injury that ended his night in the third quarter. "Hopefully I did enough to stay."
Of those six jobs up for grabs, it's safe to say that at least one is a wide receiver's position. Devin Thomas said earlier in the week that he had no idea which way coaches were leaning, but the third-year wide receiver seems to be positioned well for the Week 1 roster.
After Shanahan kept him on the sideline in the third preseason game at the New York Jets, Thomas played all four quarters and was given plenty of looks at Arizona. He was targeted seven times and caught four passes for 34 yards. He also returned four kickoffs, averaging 27.5 yards.
"Nah, I'm not concerned," he said following the game. "It's all in God's hands and the coaches' hands. I played my heart out. Let's see what happens."
Other receivers might not be sleeping as easily the next couple of nights. Banks has had an up-and-down preseason, and Thursday night was no different. He returned a kickoff 40 yards early in the first quarter but fumbled a punt later in the half and struggled at times receiving. He finished the night with 65 yards on five catches.
"It didn't go as good as I wanted it to go," Banks said. "I made some good catches, but I thought I could do better."
If the Redskins keep six wide receivers, Banks would seem to have a better shot. If they keep only five, that lost spot could come down to Banks or Terrence Austin, Washington's seventh-round pick out of UCLA.
Austin had 94 yards on five catches. His 21-yard touchdown catch at the start of the fourth quarter was the Redskins' lone touchdown of the night.
"I still made some mistakes out there on the field," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get a chance to correct them next week."