Democracy Dies in Darkness

Express | Perspective

Sitting starters in the preseason has never worked out for Jay Gruden

August 27, 2018 at 7:48 PM

After losing the 2017 opener, Jay Gruden said that maybe he should have played his starters more in the preseason, but he hasn’t changed his plan. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/)

Based on what we’ve seen from the Redskins’ offense so far, Jay Gruden should start first-team quarterback Alex Smith in the preseason finale against the Ravens on Thursday. And the offensive line, and every other healthy starter, too.

Forget about the risk of injury in a throwaway game. The whole point of the preseason is to get ready for opening day. Since Gruden has been the coach in Washington, the Redskins have never done that, going 0-4 in Week 1 games while averaging 12.3 points.

After a 30-17 loss to the Eagles to open last season, Gruden said that maybe he should have played his starters more in August. What has he done this time? He’s played them even less.

Related: [As roster cuts loom on Saturday, Redskins’ bubble players try to avoid playing ‘tight’]

Smith sat one game and isn’t expected to play in Baltimore. He saw only one series against the Jets. Playing less than a half against the Broncos, he looked way out of sync.

Gruden can talk about practice habits all he wants, but the results say his preseason plan doesn’t work. If he wants to help assure he sees a sixth summer in Washington, he should change his strategy and play some starters Thursday. Let them find a rhythm. Have the offense develop some chemistry so it doesn’t falter and lose a very winnable game at Arizona on Sept. 9.

“My whole intent is to get our starting group to Arizona healthy,” Gruden said, “and it looks like that’s what we’re on pace to do right now.”

They’re on pace for another 0-1 start. Smith was awful against Denver. Several passes weren’t even close. That was a little surprising because he had looked so good since the start of offseason camps, but that’s the difference between workouts and games.

Related: [For the Redskins, a healthy Alex Smith is more important than an in-sync offense]

The defense also was pathetic versus Denver, with awful tackling in the secondary and poor run defense up front.

Even Gruden has conceded there are two ways to look at the final preseason game.

“I think you could make an argument either way,” he said. “On talk radio, I could argue one side, or argue the other. It’s just a matter of what I feel is best for this football team, and I feel like the most important thing for us right now is getting to Arizona healthy. Every time you take a snap in a pro football game, there’s certain risks involved.”

That’s football, coach. Things happen.

Losing rookie running back Derrius Guice in the preseason opener to a season-ending ACL tear was a backbreaker. He might have become a star this year. Signing Adrian Peterson should help on that front, but fear of injuries shouldn’t overshadow the point of the preseason. With tough games against the Packers and Saints in Games 3 and 4, Washington can’t afford to lose early against the Cardinals and Colts.

Embrace the risk. That’s the best way for the Redskins to succeed this season.

Read more from Rick Snider:

First glimpse of Alex Smith reveals a QB aware of all his options

Redskins training camp is finally physical again. Will it matter in Week 1?

The Redskins’ trash-talking defensive backs have their hands full with Alex Smith

Josh Doctson is building trust and turning heads at Redskins training camp

Alex Smith is still adapting to Redskins, but his competitive fire is an immediate fit


Rick Snider has covered sports in Washington since 1978.

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