“A lot of these guys are going to be putting on a Redskins uniform for the first time,” offensive tackle Trent Williams said of Thursday’s preseason opener. “That in itself is a sight to see.” (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Jordan Reed is inching closer to being his old self, focusing on the little things that separate him from the rest of the league’s pass-catchers at his position. But even the Washington Redskins tight end is eager to line up against someone other than the same faces he sees in practice every day.

“Having some [defensive backs] that don’t know all my moves every day,” Reed said with a smile, referring to the benefit of playing against new competition. “These cats, they know my stuff now so they sit on a lot of stuff. But when we go against somebody else, we can surprise them with some new techniques.”

Reed and the rest of the Redskins finally will have an opportunity to compete against another team Thursday night when they face the New England Patriots in their preseason opener. But the opponent and the final score are of minimal importance this time of year.

After two weeks of watching his players practice against each other, Coach Jay Gruden will use the first exhibition to gauge the progress made by a retooled roster that carries much loftier expectations than the team’s 7-9 finish last season. With the additions of new starting quarterback Alex Smith, speedy wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. and gifted rookie running back Derrius Guice, the Redskins, at least on paper, appear to be much improved on offense. Time will tell if that is indeed true. But for now, Gruden has a much simpler focus.

“We have to see who rises to the occasion under the lights,” he said, adding that the biggest priority Thursday night is “to get a good look at some of our core guys that are battling for roster spots, give them plenty of looks, try to get everybody out of here and have a good week of practice against the [New York] Jets [next week].”

“We’ll decide on game day,” Gruden later said, when asked how long the starters will play. “I kind of got it in my mind what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to have it etched in stone and then change my mind last minute.”

All eyes will be on Smith, the new face of the franchise who signed a four-year, $94 million deal this offseason to be Kirk Cousins’s successor. But it’s unclear how much playing time — if any — the former Kansas City Chiefs signal caller will get. Smith could start the game and, depending on how the first-team offense fares, play one series or perhaps two. But as of Tuesday, Gruden said he hadn’t yet decided how he’ll divvy up the reps among his starters.

Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (groin), running back Chris Thompson (knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (hamstring) have already been ruled out, and Gruden said starting left tackle Trent Williams (knee) is “ready to go, but he doesn’t need to go. If there was one football player that probably didn’t need to practice, it’d be Trent.” Still, Washington’s coaching staff will have plenty of key players to evaluate and plenty of position battles to keep an eye on vs. the Patriots.

The Redskins enter the preseason with seven total running backs, and several of them are vying for roster spots, including veteran Rob Kelley, who is having “a great camp,” according to Gruden; Samaje Perine; Kapri Bibbs; and Byron Marshall. Second-round pick and former LSU star Guice is a lock to make the eventual 53-man roster, barring injury, as is Thompson. Gruden said he’ll wait until after the second preseason game against the Jets to “mix and mingle” personnel groupings in preparation for the regular season. But according to players, there already is reason to get excited about their rushing unit.

“I think them catching passes out of the backfield just adds to our versatility,” Richardson said specifically of Guice and Thompson. “ … To have those guys making plays in between tackles and then coming out the backfield making plays as well, it just adds to our versatility as an offense.”

While Reed and the rest of the starters are eager to get back into game mode, they say they’re equally excited to see how the second- and third-teamers fare against a different opponent — especially the Redskins’ receivers. Thursday night will be an opportunity for young players such as Maurice Harris, Robert Davis, Trey Quinn and Cam Sims to showcase their familiarity with the playbook and their ability to make big plays on a bigger stage than the field at the training center in Richmond.

But regardless of who’s on the field at Gillette Stadium, there’s one thing Williams, their longtime left tackle, wants to see: his teammates competing hard.

“See everybody [give] a hundred percent effort,” Williams said. “Just set the tone for the season. A lot of these guys are going to be putting on a Redskins uniform for the first time. That in itself is a sight to see. You get to see people fulfill their childhood dreams. But other than that, just to see them attack it. Be able to hit another color jersey for once.”

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