The Washington Redskins' preseason finale tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brings with it one last opportunity for the players on the bubble to impress their coaches and claim a spot on the final 53-man roster.
That theme especially holds true at running back, where, beyond the top two guys, there are four players vying for anywhere from one to maybe three spots, depending on who could be kept for the team's practice squad.
Those four players – four-year veteran Evan Royster, second-year player Chris Thompson and rookies Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk – will give it their best shot tonight in Tampa with whatever opportunities head coach Jay Gruden is able to give them.
"We have five or six running backs that are competing very well," the first-year head coach said. "So the decision will be made not until after the game against Tampa on Thursday, but it'll be a tough one, as they all will be."
Gruden said the Redskins' top two spots at running back are virtual locks, with Pro Bowler Alfred Morris leading the way, followed by four-year veteran Roy Helu Jr. From there, Gruden said, ideally, he'd like to include a change-of-pace back in the Redskins' rotation – a shifty, speedy guy – but can't use them if they can't stay healthy or are struggling in other areas of their game, like pass protection.
"Some of them have missed some time, which has hurt their chances. Some of them have missed protections, which have hurt their chances," Gruden said. "We just have got to try to do the best we can Thursday night to try to get some guys in question some touches and see what they can do – make sure the ball security is on point, see if they can play through some injuries, see how durable they are obviously and see what they can do in protection and out of the backfield."
Statistically, Seastrunk – the Redskins' 2014 sixth-round pick out of Baylor – has led the lead the group in rushing this preseason, despite missing the Aug. 23 game against the Baltimore Ravens as he mourned the death of his grandmother
In two preseason games against the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns, Seastrunk has carried the ball 19 times for 98 yards. Although he's displayed the shiftiness Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay are looking for, Seastrunk knows he still has a long way to go in his all-around skills.
"At the end of the day, I'm competing against myself," Seastrunk said. "There's a lot of great running backs in this group, and I'm honored to be around them. I'm just trying to see where I fit in at."
Royster, meanwhile, has been able to show off his abilities as a pass catcher this preseason, leading the backs with four receptions for 56 yards. He also has a rushing touchdown to his credit.
"I wasn't really in a whole lot of situations where we were catching balls out of the backfield in the past couple years," Royster said. "It's been good to get that stuff on tape this preseason and hopefully the coaches see it."
Royster, who has three years of experience with the Redskins under his belt, knows, in the end, it's about showing consistency over the course of a game – something he's trying to display tonight.
"I've come out and I've had some good plays here and there," the Westfield High School product said. "I'm just trying to show that I can sustain that for a couple quarters."
Redd, once a collegiate teammate of Royster's at Penn State, has carried the football for 78 yards on 20 carries this preseason, the second most attempts behind Morris.
While he's certainly encouraged by the coaching staff trusting him with the ball in his hands, the undrafted college free agent knows that those opportunities can be few and far between.
"I'm thankful and blessed that I've got the opportunities that I've been getting," Redd said. "I can't stop applying the pressure now and I've got to keep moving and keep going forward."
Thompson, meanwhile, has battled an ankle injury since training camp, which has limited him to just four carries for five yards in the Redskins' preseason opener against the Patriots.
The second-year back out of Florida State has shown flashes of what the coaching staff wants – that change-of-pace style, good hands out of the backfield, as well as the ability to be a game changer as a returner on special teams – but hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to do it in game situations.
But he'll get one final chance tonight vs. the Buccaneers.
"As far as Chris Thompson's concerned, like I said earlier, one of the top traits a running back has to have – my dad told me a long time ago – is durability, and he's got to prove to us that he can stay healthy," Gruden said. "He might have to play through some pain – nicks and knacks – for us to count on him on a Sunday afternoon. So, this is a big game for Chris."
The Redskins have until 4 p.m. ET Saturday to cut down their rosters from 75 to 53.