BALTIMORE — Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy entered Thursday’s preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens with clear goals: drive the ball down the field, play smart football and show everyone he can still play.
The impression he left after Washington’s 23-3 loss to the Ravens did not match those expectations. He finished the night completing six of 13 passes for 40 yards, with one interception and one fumble — which to his credit, he did recover.
Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins was likewise unimpressive, leading the offense to back-to-back three-and-outs in the first two drives of the night. The tandem of poor showings, however, will weigh far heavier on McCoy.
Cousins has a starting role locked for the season, and assured of receiving virtually every regular season snap, he’ll have ample chances to show his true mettle. As the backup, McCoy must prove his worth with significantly fewer opportunities, which amplifies the importance of preseason contests many around the NFL treat as meaningless.
“I just approach every day as if I’m looking for something to get better at,” McCoy said. “I don’t think preseason games are any different.”
Chosen in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, McCoy went through five offensive systems in his first five seasons in the NFL. He said a shoulder injury he suffered in the 2010 BCS national championship game with the University of Texas hampered him for his first “four to five” years in the league and he also suffered a head injury during his time in San Francisco in 2013. His move to the Redskins in 2014 was a restart to his career, but he was still largely unproven. While he seized some glory replacing the injured Robert Griffin III and a benched Cousins that season, he was beaten out for the starting job in 2015 and Cousins has yet to relinquish it.
Before Thursday’s game took place at M&T Bank Stadium, McCoy, now an eight-year NFL veteran, knew a mere preseason game wouldn’t be the easiest place to make a good impression.
“Yeah, you would like to go out and play well, but you also have to understand that you are playing with guys who are also fighting for roster spots and some guys who won’t be with you for the full season,” McCoy said after the Redskins’ Tuesday practice. “You just got to go out there and play what you see … you just never know how it’s going to play out.”
And still, these games are the best chance for McCoy to showcase his talents. Once the regular season begins, he’ll be relegated to the sidelines, barring a significant change of circumstance. While backup players at other positions will regularly shuffle in and out of the action, McCoy’s participation will be determined solely by Cousins’s health or diminished play. Such is the life of a backup quarterback in the NFL.
Perpetually fueled by a desire to get on the field, some in this situation — including McCoy’s new teammate, Terrelle Pryor Sr. — have pivoted, shifting from quarterback to another position. In the case of the fleet-footed Pryor, that position was wide receiver. For McCoy, that’s never really been an option.
“As a competitor I just want to play, but I don’t know,” McCoy said. “The thing about these guys in the NFL, they have spent years and years and years working at their craft. I am not the athlete, I think, to be able to do that. I have the brains, but I’m not sure I have the wheels. …
“I will say, I’m the backup snapper, I’m the backup holder and I’m the backup punter,” McCoy added. “So if the team ever needs me in those roles, I’ll be there.”
But the focus is on the only position McCoy has ever known in the NFL. And the focus is on seizing the moments given to him, like Thursday night.
McCoy entered the game in the third series, with the rest of the offensive starters also pulled from the game. In his first drive, the team went three-and-out. The second drive brought McCoy’s fumble and recovery. With 36 seconds left in the first half, McCoy threw an interception, consequently ending the Redskins’ half. He was replaced by 23-year old Nate Sudfeld to start the third quarter. Head coach Jay Gruden said after the game the fumbles were “very concerning.”
Thursday’s preseason game wasn’t McCoy’s shot to become the Redskins’ 2017 starter by any means. There is no quarterback controversy, with Cousins at the helm for a third-straight year. It was, however, a chance for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound gunslinger, who re-signed with the team in 2016 on a three-year, $9 million contact, to prove he is still a viable option as a starter in the NFL. Both to the Redskins and the rest of the league.
McCoy is steadfast that he is fully invested in his situation with the Redskins, but there is always the future to consider for any NFL player. With Cousins playing out a one-year contract under the franchise tag, there is the possibility he signs elsewhere next offseason. McCoy then is trying to show the Redskins he is a strong internal replacement option should Cousins leave. Memorable performances in the preseason could likewise convince other teams McCoy could be their solution at quarterback.
“I know my role and my responsibility and I do that to the best of my ability,” McCoy said of his backup job with the Redskins. “The preseason is a chance — for whatever amount of reps I get — to just to go out there and play smart football and show I can still play.”
McCoy entered Thursday’s preseason game “excited” to get back on the field, after not playing since Week 3 of the preseason in 2016. Last year was the first time in McCoy’s NFL career he did not take a single offensive snap during the regular season. Though, it didn’t curb McCoy’s drive to play like and become a starter.
His ambition was present in training camp Tuesday when McCoy participated in extra conditioning work after practice. While NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited the camp and ran routes with Cousins and cornerback Josh Norman, McCoy was sprinting around the opposite end of the field, head still focused on the preseason game against the Ravens.
Linebacker Will Compton, wearing a giddy smile, caught McCoy coming off the field and asked him if he had met Earnhardt. McCoy shook his head.
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