The roster the Washington Redskins assembled includes eight wide receivers, nine rookies — including one who wasn’t even drafted — two quarterbacks, no backup offensive guards and one 36-year-old fullback who, in his 11th year in the league, learned how to play tight end. And to earn a spot among those 53 players: “It was a lot more competitive than it was a year ago,” Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday.
First, the wide receivers: Though there are eight listed, Shanahan said he considers second-year player Brandon Banks only as a return specialist — a role in which he excelled last year and one in which he returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in last week’s preseason finale against Tampa Bay.
Banks has battled a balky left knee since last season, a factor in Shanahan’s thinking.
“He’s a guy that I’m even afraid to really practice as a wide receiver, because that knee swells up,” Shanahan said. “But I thought he did such a great job on punt returns and kickoff returns, it’d be silly not to dress him on game day. . . . I think he’s a difference-maker out there.”
That still leaves seven wide receivers on the 53-man roster, but none on the practice squad, and Shanahan said he needs that many to run both his offense and the scout team during the week. Plus, he didn’t want to risk losing any of the potential cuts — rookie Niles Paul or second-year man Terrence Austin — to other teams.
“We don’t want to put anybody out there,” Shanahan said. “We were afraid they’d get picked up.”
That leaves the wide receivers with an in-season competition to remain among the 45 players who are active for each Sunday.
“It just means we’ve got a lot of guys that can go out there and play,” wide receiver Anthony Armstrong said. “We’re pretty solid across the board.”
Shanahan said veteran Mike Sellers, a Pro Bowler at fullback two years ago, made the team in part because he didn’t sulk when second-year player Darrel Young began the preseason as the starting fullback. Sellers diversified his game by learning to play tight end and will continue to be a valuable special teams force, Shanahan said.
“It’s always tough when you get a little bit older to go and work as a third- [or] fourth-team tight end [from] being the first-team fullback,” Shanahan said. “But he never wavered.”
Shanahan said cutting defensive lineman Anthony Bryant in favor of rookie Chris Neild — the penultimate pick in the draft — was “very tough,” but “Chris separated himself.”
Shanahan said in the event of an injury to one of the starting guards — Chris Chester and Kory Lichtensteiger — Erik Cook, a seventh-round pick in last year’s draft who spent 2010 on the Redskins’ practice squad, would play center and starting center Will Montgomery would slide to guard.
And the coach reaffirmed his long-held mantra that once practices begin, the only thing that matters is performance on the field and work ethic off it — not draft position. Thus, he had no problem keeping undrafted rookie Willie Smith, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle from East Carolina who has “a lot of talent,” Shanahan said.
“I just wanted to give my best effort and let my work speak for itself,” Smith said. “I guess it did.”