Here's five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, press conference at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.:
1. Two Redskins players have been ruled out of Sunday's game with the Rams, while another is doubtful to play.
Gruden said defensive lineman Kedric Golston (foot/back) and cornerback Chase Minnifield (concussion) – both of whom did not practice all week – are officially listed as out for Sunday's game at FedExField, while safety Brandon Meriweather (toe) is listed as doubtful.
Top images from Washington Redskins' practice on Dec. 5, 2014, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
If Meriweather is unable to go, then Phillip Thomas will likely get his first-career start.
"It's time for him to step up," Gruden said. "This is a great opportunity for Phillip. He has been on the practice squad, been in and out of the lineup. We waived him, brought him back to the practice squad. He had some opportunities last week and failed on a couple plays, but this is a great opportunity for Phillip and we hope that he can step in there and show why he is still here."
Those listed as questionable Sunday are defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee), defensive lineman Chris Baker (chest), cornerback E.J. Biggers (concussion), linebacker Keenan Robinson (knee) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (shin).
Gruden said Jackson – who suffered two different contusions last Sunday against the Colts – will definitely be a gametime decision against the Rams.
"Instead of trying to push him through and making it worse, this is an injury where he needs rest and ice and treatment, so we've just got to make sure we do all the proper precautions to get him ready," Gruden said. "[There are] steps that we have to take, so hopefully he will feel better tomorrow and then come Sunday he will be able to go, but if he is not at full strength then it will be a long shot for him to play."
READ MORE:Full Redskins Week 14 Injury Report
2. Practices these last few weeks of the season are critical for the player evaluation process.
"You want to get them prepared for the game, No. 1," Gruden said. "You've got to get them all the looks they need to prepare themselves for the game. You want to see great tempo, a sense of urgency where they're trying to get better every day and really learn – sinking their teeth
into the game plan and understanding what they're supposed to do, what their role is. "
Gruden said continuing to understand the fundamentals that go behind every play – every motion – is key for every player as they finish out the season.
"There are a lot of fundamental things that go into each individual play and as coaches, we try to harp on them, but as players you want – especially this late in the week – everything to be put together," he said. "You want things to be crisp and fast, no mental mistakes. We had a good practice today. Hopefully it carries over."
3. The Redskins are well aware that the Rams have some tricks up their sleeve.
Earlier this season, St. Louis used two trick plays – both on punt formations – to help defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
In the second quarter, the Rams were receiving a punt when they had their entire return team run to the right side of the field as the ball was in the air.
Well, almost everyone. Returner Stedman Bailey stayed to the left side of the field – where the ball was actually kicked – and returned it untouched for a touchdown. The entire Seattle punt coverage unit was tricked into following the 10 Rams running to their right, and by the time they realized Bailey had received the punt on the other side of the field, it was too late.
Later in the game, St. Louis sealed the victory by faking a punt.
Gruden said the Rams "do an excellent job trying to create more possession for offense with fake punts, the special plays and the return game."
"We just have to be on high alert, like you say, at all times," Gruden said. "Coach [Ben] Kotiwca has these guys ready. They watched every bit of film and hopefully we have a scheme that can guard against all the special trick plays."
4. Quarterback Robert Griffin III is handling the backup role "fine."
Gruden said Griffin III "understands his role" and has been taking the scout team reps during practice.
During individual drills, Griffin III is "working with his footwork and with his drops and all that stuff."
"It's very important for him to take advantage of the reps when he can get them, but they are few and far between later and as the week goes on," Gruden said. "Mainly, Colt [McCoy] gets the first team and then obviously he's [Griffin III] got to get the scout team. But there are still things from a conceptual standpoint that teams do that are similar to ours so we can still read out the progressions, still work his footwork in the pocket, redirect blitz pickups and all that stuff. It's a matter of playing football, still working on his feet and just playing the position."
READ MORE:5 Takeaways: Dec. 3 Presser
5. Younger defensive backs typically need to learn when to go for the big play vs. sticking to their assignment.
Gruden said learning the balance in these two areas is key to the development of any young cornerback or safety.
"It's like if they come out of coverage and make a big play, everybody's high-fiving them, but when they come out of coverage and they get burnt bad for it, it's bad," he said. "You have to make sure that they're doing their job and understand their responsibilities on each individual coverage, play and situation. It's very, very important that everybody's on the same page – no matter if the play comes to you or not."
Some players come out of college and they're used always being big-play guys. When they get to the NFL, however, the good teams feast on that.
"You've got to understand situations and coverages and know when it's OK," Gruden said. "If we put you in position to be a ball hawk, be a ball hawk. But if you are playing two-deep coverage, you've got to play your two deep coverage. Pick your spots but understand the responsibilities as a coverage where your location is number one is first and foremost and making a play obviously is secondary."