At last, Week 1 of the NFL regular season is here. The Redskins on Sunday host the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m., and they will try to earn their first season-opening victory since 2012.
After a disjointed showing through the first three preseason games, the Redskins starters have spent the last two weeks trying to address problem areas and position themselves for an improved showing. Here are five story lines to follow in Sunday’s game at FedEx Field.
1. How they start: After the Redskins repeatedly stumbled out of the gate during the preseason, Coach Jay Gruden and his assistants have stressed to players the importance of getting off to a fast start. They can’t wait two quarters for things to start clicking offensively, and the defense can’t allow its opponent to march downfield and set the tone. With Sean McVay now in Los Angeles with the Rams, Gruden has assumed play-calling duties, and the coach says he’s looking forward to the task. It’s important for the coach to position quarterback Kirk Cousins and the offense in prime position for success by helping them find a rhythm early with a mix of the run and the pass.
2. Overhauled defense: This unit also has a new boss. Former Redskins linebacker Greg Manusky hopes to command a more aggressive and effective squad for Washington, which has struggled mightily against the run and on third downs for some time. The defense will feature seven new starters, so it’ll be interesting to see how quickly this thing comes together. The Eagles boast two effective backs in LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, but it’s the passing game led by Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith that will largely determine Philadelphia’s success.
3. Veteran debuts: The Redskins have two long-anticipated returns from injury: wide receiver Josh Doctson and outside linebacker Junior Galette. A talented pass-rusher, Galette signed with Washington two years ago but hasn’t played in a game after tearing one Achilles’ tendon in 2015 and the other in 2016. Doctson was the first-round pick last year and made only two cameo appearances as a rookie while dealing with Achilles’ tendon ailments of his own. These two could have a real impact if they can stay healthy. Two more players making Redskins debuts: wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. and strong safety D.J. Swearinger. Like Galette and Doctson, these two have a chance to be real difference-makers for their respective units. Pryor could emerge as the red-zone threat; Swearinger sets the tone on defense.
4. Rookie debuts: Redskins officials aimed this offseason to upgrade their defense, and the draft reflected that. Four of the first five picks were defensive players. Leading the way is first-rounder Jonathan Allen. Gruden says the Redskins haven’t had an interior defensive lineman of Allen’s caliber in a long time. Allen has looked like a steady veteran while receiving a regulated workload during the preseason. Now we’ll see how Manusky turns him loose in the regular season. Meanwhile, second-round pick Ryan Anderson has a chance to help the pass rush, and third- and fourth-rounders Fabian Moreau and Montae Nicholson are likely to see significant action on special teams. Fourth-round pick Samaje Perine will be used to complement starting running back Rob Kelley.
5. Everett at safety: The Redskins planned for 2016 second-round pick Su’a Cravens to start at strong safety, but he announced last week to teammates and team officials that he’s retiring. So the Redskins will turn to third-year pro Deshazor Everett. An undrafted cornerback out of Texas A&M, Everett made this team the last two years with strong special teams play, and he has done a good job of capitalizing on spot defensive duty the last two years. Now in his second year as a safety, he will try to prove that he can make a significant impact as a full-time player in the NFL for the first time. Swearinger said he has the ultimate confidence that Everett could get the job done. His cornerback skills should help in pass coverage, and the same tenacity that he displayed on special teams should make him a contributor against the run.