Through the first nine days of training camp, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden compiled film of his players battling one another. When New England arrived for three days of joint practice, he added footage of Redskins squaring off against Patriots.
But as Gruden predicted, contesting the first NFL preseason game under the spotlight brought out a fire in a handful of players whose motor is built for the big stage.
Among them was rookie running back Lache Seastrunk, whose personal highlight came the moment coaches called his name to join the fray at FedEx Field, where the Redskins romped to a 23-6 victory over New England.
“I felt like, ‘Oh man, I’m here, and this is my time to shine!’ ” said Seastrunk, 23, a sixth-round draft pick from Baylor.
In a game plan laden with running plays, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Seastrunk got the most carries (12), averaging an impressive 5.3 yards. He also had Washington’s two longest gains by a back: a 21-yard scamper around the left end and a 19-yard gain around the right end.
With it, he raised his profile in what’s proving a highly competitive, entertaining battle for a role as a third-down back, flashing the speed and quick cutting ability that would make a great change-up to Pro Bowler Alfred Morris.
Rookie free agent Silas Redd stood out as well. He earned his 45 yards the hard way, primarily up the middle, on nine carries.
“We’d like to have thunder and lightning, so to speak — or just have a couple thunders,” Gruden said, alluding to the appeal of a power runner and a speedy scat back to complement Morris, who carried the ball on four of the first five plays in the starters’ lone, opening series.
“Alfred is going to get his bulk of carries, and he’s going to need to have a rest every now and then. Whoever that guy is — whether it’s Roy [Helu Jr.], whether it’s Silas, whether it’s Lache [pronounced “Lake”], whether it’s Chris Thompson — that is to be determined.”
Thursday’s preseason opener was the first game for quarterback Robert Griffin III in 242 days. With any hope of the playoffs scuttled after a 3-10 start, Coach Mike Shanahan benched him for the last three games of the 2013 season, ostensibly to spare his surgically repaired knee further battering.
On Thursday, Gruden asked the basics of Griffin, who completed 2 of 4 passes for nine yards.
“We’ll move onto the next game, and we’ll get some more snaps,” Griffin said, asked about the run-heavy script.
For a team whose performance has fluctuated wildly the last two seasons — going from a 10-6 record and NFC East championship in 2012 to a divisional cellar-dwelling 3-13 in 2013 — it made sense for Gruden to re-lay the foundation upon succeeding Shanahan as coach. That’s what he has tried to do throughout training camp, aided by assistants who share his passion for teaching and proper mechanics.
On the road to NFL redemption, consistency is Step 1 — not dazzling theatrics.
“Give them a few plays; get them out,” Gruden said of his goal for his starters in Thursday’s opener. “Tomorrow and next week, they’ll have a few more plays.”
Like a quiz early in the semester, the victory over the largely second-string Patriots didn’t determine any player’s final grade. But it revealed who’s grasping the material.
Among those keeping up was rookie kicker Zach Hocker, whom the Redskins deemed worthy of a seventh-round draft pick. Though Gruden said the kicking competition would take the full preseason to settle, Hocker gained early separation on incumbent Kai Forbath by nailing both field goal attempts (from 27 and 39 yards) and making a tackle on special teams.
Forbath sent one kickoff out of bounds and clanged his first field goal attempt off an upright but made good on the redo from 39 yards following a delay-of-game penalty. Later, he was short on a 46-yard attempt.
Coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense also acquitted itself well, holding New England scoreless until just 83 seconds remained.
Credit the Redskins’ pass rush for some of the Patriots’ futility, although it was obvious second-string quarterback Ryan Mallett’s decision-making and delivery pales in comparison to the surgical quick-strike of Tom Brady, who sat out.
“I’ll meet you at the quarterback!” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan told Brian Orakpo before New England’s opening drive. Rushing from the right, Orakpo reached Mallett first and dropped him for a five-yard loss.
Gruden, a former standout quarterback at Louisville whose game wasn’t quite good enough for the NFL, has enormous respect for quarterbacks who make the cut. Hence, as an NFL coach, he understands the imperative of a potent pass rush.
“If you give these quarterbacks in the NFL time to throw, they’re going to dice you,” Gruden said. “That’s something that’s mandatory in the NFL with the teams and the quarterbacks that we play, so we have to continue fighting our guys every day to make sure we’re going to rush the quarterback with a relentless pursuit to the football.”
As the Redskins get back to work Saturday in preparation for their Aug. 18 preseason game against Cleveland, Gruden soon will have another promising pupil in the fold. Pass-rushing ace Jason Hatcher, who registered 11 sacks for Dallas last season, is expected to be cleared to practice any day.