The Redskins’ long-shot plan for making the playoffs this season is to rely on a much-improved defense to dominate. Well, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, and the Browns’ offense will throw the first haymaker in the preseason opener tonight (NBC/NBCSW, 7:30). Let’s see if the Redskins can stop Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., while also figuring out how to handle offensive question marks at quarterback and the left side of the offensive line. Here are five positions to watch:
Coach Jay Gruden plans to use three quarterbacks against the Browns, but Colt McCoy won’t be one of them as he’ll wait another week to play. McCoy, who is still rounding into shape after breaking his leg last season, left practice early on Monday for treatment. Tonight, Gruden will mostly be looking for knowledge of the playbook and ball security. The game plan won’t be much like it will be for Week 1. Case Keenum, , is still learning the system, and rookie Dwayne Haskins needs to get past NFL debut jitters. Fourth-stringer Josh Woodrum will get some snaps, too. Expect mostly handoffs and safe passes in a vanilla offense.
Dustin Hopkins suffered a serious case of the doinks in training camp, once hitting the left and right uprights on consecutive kicks. But Hopkins also showed that strong leg we’ve seen over the past four years, often hitting 45- to 55-yard field goals. Hopkins is entering his fifth season, about the expiration date for Redskins kickers. Predecessors Kai Forbath, Graham Gano and Shaun Suisham each lasted four seasons or less. Coach Norv Turner couldn’t cut Chip Lohmiller quick enough before the 1995 camp after seven seasons. Translation: Kickers can be released suddenly without warning, so keep an eye on Hopkins.
The most exciting player in training camp is Jimmy Moreland. The seventh-rounder out of JMU has been a ballhawk throughout camp and gained enough confidence to order others not to sub for him in a drill. Really, a seventh-rounder taking control? When you make plays every practice, you earn respect. Moreland may be the biggest surprise since undrafted free agent James Thrash scored on two kickoff returns in 1997 to launch a 12-year career. But let’s see what Moreland does in a real game. He jumps routes well so don’t be surprised to see him press veteran Fabian Moreau for time.
Left side OL
Trent Williams’ holdout aside, the Redskins are seeking the right combination of left tackle and guard. Aging veteran Donald Penn seems to have the edge over Geron Christian at tackle, but the latter can earn the job with a big preseason. The same is true at guard, where rookie Wes Martin will try to unseat veteran Ereck Flowers, who has looked much better since moving over from tackle. Flowers showed surprising agility at guard during drills. Still, the Redskins will be reluctant to pair Christian and Martin since they have a combined two games of experience. Look for one veteran and one newbie to start.
The Redskins have never effectively replaced Brian Mitchell after his 2000 exit. And they may not do so this season either, because the best punt returner is probably Trey Quinn. However, the Redskins shouldn’t risk Quinn on special teams because he’s too valuable at slot receiver. Besides, plenty of receivers and defensive backs can return punts. Greg Stroman is the top candidate, but he’s dinged up. Byron Marshall is more of a kick returner as the Redskins search for that, too. Overall, the team’s late-round picks will have special teams as their primary jobs as they try to find roles on offense or defense.
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