The Washington Post

Redskins-Titans: Five story lines to follow in Washington’s preseason opener

NASHVILLE – After two weeks of training camp practices, the Redskins will face their first opponent of the preseason tonight, taking on the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.

This first preseason game won’t fully reflect the finished product that Washington will put on the field when the regular season begins. But it certainly will offer some previews of what’s to come here and there, and also will help us start gaining some clarification on where various position battles stand.

Kirk Cousins. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Here are five story lines to follow in tonight’s game.

1.) Kirk Cousins’s development – With Robert Griffin III shelved for the preseason, Cousins will serve as interim starter. His goal: “to be a very good insurance policy” for the Redskins in case Griffin has some kind of setback and doesn’t open the season as he appears on target to do, or if Griffin gets hurt again at some point this season. So far in training camp, Cousins has for the most part looked like a fourth-rounder, who has only played in a handful of games. That’s because he is. His has a good knowledge of the offense, but he has struggled with consistency in his execution. It will be interesting to see how Cousins does under the lights. This is where players truly define themselves. He said on Tuesday that he wasn’t sure how much or little he would play, but Coach Mike Shanahan did say that Cousins could play more than a normal starter would. Every snap is crucial for Cousins’s growth for the immediate and long-term future.

2.) Rookie defensive backs – Tonight represents the unveiling of the promising trio of defensive backs that the Redskins hope can eventually bring them long-term stability in their secondary. Cornerback David Amerson and safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo are all expected to start against the Titans. Rambo has served as starting free safety since Day 1 of camp, and Amerson has worked frequently with the first team with veterans banged up. Thomas had been relegated to the second unit, but with Brandon Meriweather not expected to play, he will get a chance to show coaches how far he has come in his development. All three have a swagger about them, but at the same time share a level-headed, determined focus as well. In practices, they have shown great promise. The pressure ramps up tonight, however. How will they do against an unfamiliar opponent?

3.) Backfield competition – Alfred Morris is the undisputed starter at running back, but Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster, Keiland Williams, Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison all are jockeying for position behind him. Finally healthy again, Helu aims to prove that he can team with Morris to provide that versatile 1-2 punch that will help advance Washington’s offense. Meanwhile, Royster will fight to remain relevant despite lacking above average speed and pass-catching skills. Coaches think Thompson can give them a spark as a scatback. Can he deliver? Jamison and Williams haven’t been bad in camp, but haven’t looked exceptional either. Shanahan always says you can’t really get a complete feel for a running back until they’re in games. The auditions begin tonight.

4.) Offensive line depth – The Redskins seem to have a rather precarious situation at left and right tackle, and tonight should help confirm or dispel that notion. Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams will not play, and there seems to be a significant drop off between Williams and his backup, Tom Compton, who spent the bulk of last season on the practice squad. Compton believes that he has made big strides in his development. We will see if that’s the case. Can the Redskins really go into the season without a veteran in place in case Williams – the protector of Griffin’s blindside – goes down? On the other side of the line, Tyler Polumbus returns as starter, and behind him the team has Tony Pashos (a decent veteran, who is coming back from a foot injury that forced him out of all of 2012) and Jeremy Trueblood, who lost his job in Tampa Bay and has looked uninspired in training camp. The Redskins publically say they like the depth they have at both spots. We’ll see tonight just how good, or poor it actually is.

5.) Returning stars – Tonight also represents the first games that key players such as Brian Orakpo and Fred Davis will play since they suffered their season-ending injuries last season. The Redskins missed both of them last season. Tonight we’ll get a brief look at what a healthy Orakpo can do for the pass-rushing department, and how his presence will help ease pressure on a secondary that struggled mightily last season. His return also should help teammates like Ryan Kerrigan, Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield. Davis should give Cousins yet another weapon to go to. We’ll see how he fits back into the picture with Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan (both of whom are also much healthier than they were at last season’s end).

As a bonus story line: Keep an eye on how young wide receivers Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson do as they try to prove to coaches that they have matured and can be counted on. Additionally, undrafted rookies Skye Dawson, Nick Williams and Chip Reeves will try to become this year’s preseason special teams star and distinguish themselves not only as pass-catchers but return men, as well.

The Post Sports Live crew previews the Redskins first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. (The Washington Post)

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @D3Keith @Insider | @PostSports

What’s ahead:

● An in-game discussion thread, with links to rosters and the box score, going up around 6:30.

● Camp in Richmond resumes Saturday. If you’re headed there, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Five story lines for tonight’s game in Nashville

Reid: Help may have arrived for a secondary that needs it

Some key Redskins have things to prove in preseason opener | All Insider posts

Video: Post Sports Live previews the preseason opener

D.C. Sports Bog: Rookie keeps a Staburst in his sock | More Bog & Redskins

The Early Lead: NFL to lower preseason ticket prices? | Around the NFL

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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Mark Maske · August 7, 2013