With their first Richmond training camp finished, the Washington Redskins moved back to their Ashburn headquarters over the weekend. On Monday, the evaluations continue as the team plays its first home game of the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The jobs along the first offensive and defensive units already appear set for the most part, aside from a couple of positions at which injuries could cast a degree of doubt. But spots in the rotation, whether at running back, wide receiver, kick returner, defensive back — and the difference between second and third string as opposed to not making the team at all — remain undetermined.
Monday’s game also will provide further seasoning for players such as backup quarterback Kirk Cousins and tight end Fred Davis.
Cousins has a good feel for the offense but lacks extensive game experience. Davis, after missing the bulk of last season, has showed encouraging signs, but he can use game reps to further knock off rust.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he expects Cousins to play for roughly a half and Rex Grossman and Pat White — both battling for the third-string quarterback spot — to split the second half.
Davis last week made his return from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered in Week 7 of the 2012 campaign. He played 13 snaps in the preseason opener, making two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown.
This week, Shanahan said Davis will receive more extensive playing time against the Steelers to gauge his recovery further.
“Fred will play more than he did in the first game,” Shanahan said. “He will probably play close to half. He’ll switch off there in a little bit. You are hoping that he keeps on improving. He feels very comfortable in himself in football shape. What I have seen thus far in camp is very encouraging because he has played well, he has caught the ball well, he has blocked well and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Said Davis: “I want that. I’ve been out nine months. I’m ready for any opportunity, preseason or anything. I’m going to play it like it’s a real game.”
Monday could provide the first look at rookie running back Chris Thompson, a fifth-round pick out of Florida State whose speed and athleticism could provide a spark. Alfred Morris has the starting position locked up, and Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster played well last week as they compete for No. 2 back duties. But Thompson didn’t play against Tennessee.
Thompson missed all of the offseason practices this spring and endured a slow start to camp while he completed his recovery from ACL surgery last fall. But this past week, he practiced fully for the first time. Thompson said he expects to play Monday, both as a running back and kickoff returner, as he looks to make up for lost time. And coaches are eager to see what Thompson can offer.
“Hopefully from this point on, he’ll be healthy enough that we’ll be able to continually be able to let him grow,” running backs coach Bobby Turner said. “Because he’s shown signs of what we expected when we drafted him. He has great, outstanding speed, cutting ability, the ability to make the big plays.”
Meanwhile, fellow rookie Bacarri Rambo did play last week, starting at free safety as he has in every training camp practice. Rambo had a mixed performance against the Titans; he played well in coverage and provided good run support on some plays. However, he was juked badly in the open field by speedy running back Chris Johnson, who already had made defenders miss at the line and then went 58 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris said that play shouldn’t serve as a defining moment for Rambo.
Morris added that getting burned on a play or two in the preseason actually can be a good thing in a rookie’s development because it can serve as a learning experience.
“It was great to see him go out there and make that mistake last week. He got beat in the open field by a great player in Chris Johnson and has something to learn from to bring him back down,” Morris said. “So when those things happen, those are the kind of things you have to have for young players to teach those guys what they have to do. A lot of young guys want to blame what happened up front for what happened in the back. Yeah, that’s great. But our job is to eliminate the big huge plays and eliminate those mistakes.”
And so Rambo aims to show this week that he has the ability to do just that.
“I’m just going out there and trying to get better,” he said. “Of course, I want to show them that I can tackle in the open field and continue to do the small things right and continue to try to get better at my craft. That’s obviously what the game is about. If you make a mistake, just see it as a positive that you can take and learn and improve your game.”