For a fourth preseason game, it wound up being an eventful night. The focus pregame centered around James Andrews clearing Robert Griffin III — as everyone expected him to. And then, we saw some players make strong cases for themselves as they battled for roster spots. We saw others confirm what the Redskins believed about them. Uncertainty remains on the backfield depth chart, and at strong safety. But the coming days should provide clarity there.
Let’s take a look at the five observations from last night’s game.
1) Questions linger on Meriweather – The Redskins entered Thursday night’s game hoping to get some answers regarding what they can expect from Brandon Meriweather, who if healthy, will start at strong safety. The good news: Meriweather held up for a full half, and appeared to run well. The bad news, he appeared hesitant to get into the mix on some run plays where he could’ve helped make tackles. Meriweather had a couple pass plays where he appeared sound in coverage, but otherwise, Meriweather didn’t really have much of an impact. It’s understandable that he would exhibit some rust, but it would’ve been nice to see Meriweather make a couple plays. Meriweather didn’t record a tackle in the game. He and Rambo did appear to communicate well, and there were times where they switched off and on with Meriweather dropping deep at times and Rambo stepping up into the box to offer run support, which gives Washington’s defense versatility. But, because he didn’t really display much physicality, it’s still hard to say if he is back to top form, or if he can be a difference-maker. Meriweather himself wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance. Although encouraged that he had made it through the game without any problems, and that his knee still felt good afterwards, he didn’t believe that he played with the kind of energy that he is capable of. Meriweather said he didn’t know if he had shown his coaches enough to let him play in Week 1, but he said, “the worst thing that could happen to me right now would be coaches telling me I have to sit out another week because I didn’t look ready.”
2) Thompson comes up big – He got off to a shaky start, nearly muffing a punt on the first one he fielded, and looked very much like a guy who hasn’t fielded punts since his freshman year of college. But then on his third punt attempt, Thompson provided the fireworks. He got under the punt, paused to freeze the defenders converging on him, and then took off to the right with a couple of cuts and raced the rest of the way for a 69-yard return for a touchdown. That was exactly the kind of play that Thompson needed to make the 53-man roster. Earlier this week, and even just before his big return, Thompson appeared to be a long shot to make the roster. But then, he delivered what could be a career-changing play. That return seemed to give Thompson confidence. He didn’t have another substantial return, but he did have four carries for 18 yards on offense, including a 16-yard run on which he put his speed and shiftiness to use.
3) Competition at running back – Evan Royster, like Thompson, made a statement when he needed it most. He said being held out of last week’s game for what he described as a “very minor” ankle injury wound up lighting a fire inside him, and he wanted to run like he had something to prove. Royster against Tampa Bay looked like the player that we saw produce for back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to close out his rookie season. The vision, the smooth running, cutting ability – it was all there. Now, Redskins coaches have a difficult decision to make. Keiland Williams – believed to be Royster’s top competitor for that spot behind Alfred Morris and Roy Helu – injured his shoulder early in the game and had only one carry for a one-yard loss. But he has a solid body of preseason work for coaches to consider. Thompson did well in limited action. Jawan Jamison had 11 carries for 34 yards. Royster said he feels for the coaches, who have to make such a difficult decision. Based on his showing Thursday night, however, Royster may have reclaimed that edge over Williams. The Redskins just might have to go with one less offensive lineman (eight is feasible because Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester can both serve as backup center, and Tom Compton can serve as the backup at both left and right tackle, according to Kyle Shanahan) so they can afford to carry four running backs: Morris, Helu, Royster (?) and Thompson (primarily a punt returner).
4) Rambo, Amerson shine – Bacarri Rambo took more steps forward in his development, recording three open-field tackles on defense and one tackle for a loss on special teams. Meriweather may not have liked his own energy, but Rambo said that Meriweather’s presence sparked him, and that the continued tutelage of Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris fueled his aggression. Redskins coaches were happy with what they saw out of Rambo in that final preseason performance. Rambo and I stood outside the locker room and I asked him to name the biggest lesson he had learned in the preseason. Jim Haslett walked by and said, “He learned how to tackle.” Rambo chuckled and then agreed. This isn’t to say there won’t be some ugly days ahead for Rambo. But he has proven to be a fast learner. Meanwhile, Amerson rebounded from a challenging performance against Buffalo and played strong coverage. Amerson had an impressive, leaping interception and returned it 34 yards. It’s evident that these two will play a lot this season. It’ll be interesting – and possibly very entertaining – to watch them as they develop into the playmakers that they seem capable of becoming.
5) Perfection for Forbath – The Redskins have long sought a reliable kicker, and Kai Forbath is just that. With a 3-for-3 performance against Tampa Bay, Forbath closed out the preseason with a 7-for-7 mark. He nailed a 53-yarder last week against Buffalo, and that was after the Bills called a timeout just before his first attempt, trying to ice him. Forbath just came right back out and drilled the kick again. The biggest area of note, however, is on kickoffs, where Forbath has shown marked improvement, kicking the ball into the end zone on all six of his attempts Thursday night. It appears that last season was no fluke. The Redskins indeed have found their guy.
Bonus – A quick look at some bubble players: Wide receiver/return man Nick Williams did well with a 29-yard return and two catches for 24 yards. It’s hard to see him making the roster, though. He does have practice squad eligibility. … Defensive end Phillip Merling did well, and likely earned himself a spot thanks partly to Jarvis Jenkins’s looming suspension. … Back to the secondary: You have to wonder if free agent Jose Gumbs was able to earn himself a roster spot. He delivered some big hits, as he has a number of times during the preseason. We’ll just have to see how the numbers shake out. Gumbs has worked primarily at free safety, where there is no clear cut backup to Bacarri Rambo. DeJon Gomes can play there, and also can play some nickel back, which helps his case. Jordan Pugh can play both strong and free, which benefits him. Six safeties seem unlikely, though. Who stays? Who goes?
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
● Evan Royster’s thoughts on whether he’ll make the roster, at 7:30 a.m.
● The second round of cuts, due by 4 p.m. Saturday, requires rosters to go from 75 to 53.
More about the Redskins:
The Early Lead: NFL, ex-players reach $765m settlement over concussion lawsuits