The return of football Thursday night against the Falcons will provide several Redskins the chance to play in a game for the first time since getting injured.
Hold up Thursday night's preseason opener with the Atlanta Falcons to the light, and, depending on which Redskins player has his arm raised, the perspective will surely be different.
For rookies and players on the roster bubble, the game marks the first impression on their biggest stage to date, under the lights in front of a visiting crowd in which each play is caught on tape for the world to see. It is, simply speaking, the next big audition in a four week process to make an NFL team.
For the returning veterans, the first game is a welcome, although brief, return to football. The first team unit likely won't play more than a few drives, whetting their appetites within the gradual return to the gridiron.
And then there are those who see Thursday as the starting line for redemption, the opening thesis to a long-awaited dissertation about the hard road back from despair and rehabilitation. Specifically, they are the players who missed the majority, if not all, of last season due to injury, varying in physical and mental degree. The Redskins are in no short supply of them.
"I'm excited, I can't complain," safety Duke Ihenacho said. "It's been a long time, so I'm going to go out there and appreciate every moment, and go all out, just like I would. I'm excited though."
Ihenacho fractured his wrist in last year's season opener against the Dolphins and has played in just four games over the last two years. Then there's linebacker Martrell Spaight, who also lost his season vs. Miami with a concussion. Left guard Shawn Lauvao sprained his ankle against the Giants in Week 3 and was placed on injure/reserve. Tight end Logan Paulsen had surgery for turf toe during training camp, while tight end Niles Paul dislocated his ankle against the Browns in the preseason.
They have all made significant strides since those moments of pain. Ihenacho and Spaight have done solid work as backups at safety and inside linebacker, respectively, while Lauvao returned to camp last week and will continue to battle Spencer Long for a starting spot. Paulsen and Paul have looked strong filling out a deep tight ends group.
Now, they're eager to put on their full pads.
"It's a different mix of emotions, you know," Spaight said. "Starting to flip the switch on a little bit more as far as getting into game mode and full attack mode."
"Excited man, real humble," Lauvao said. "I think the one thing is it has been a good learning experience. Good support around here with the Redskins, like I said, just grateful for the opportunity."
"I'm really excited," Paulsen said. "Already getting a little nervous for it, and it feels great to be back out there."
The Washington Redskins defense and special teams conducted their eleventh day of training camp practice Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
The nerves, according to Paulsen, come from his long wait. A full speed practice in training camp isn't exactly the same thing as a full speed preseason game. It will take a few snaps, maybe a few drives, to get adjusted and back into a familiar setting. Until then, the butterflies flap their wings.
"Everything I do I have butterflies," Spaight said. "I have butterflies coming out here just going to practice and that's just the type of player I've always been my entire life. So I feel like maybe the first few plays there may be some butterflies but after a while you just realize it's still the same game and you just got to go out there and play."
For Lauvao, who just recently returned off the PUP list and has accelerated in his one week of training camp, believes that as much as players might complain about the preseason, it provides a helpful progression for players returning from injury.
"We can tune up, make the corrections we need to make and obviously just keep building," Lauvao said.
Still, these are professional football players. The game is still deeply embedded in them, which means that regardless the amount of time they've been away from the field, a level of comfort persists when they're on it.
"It kind of never leaves you, you know?" Spaight said. "Being at the game for a whole year just makes me even more hungry. You want to go out there and play ball again, so I'm really looking forward to Thursday. Like I said, the mentality's there, so I'm just ready to go out there and just go out there and show it."