Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Thursday's Redskins-Buccaneers preseason showdown at Raymond James Stadium.
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DRESS TO IMPRESSBy Thursday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Washington Redskins will have cut their 90-man roster down to 75. That means at least 22 men will be playing Thursday for a chance to make the Redskins' final 53-man roster – or, at the very least, its 10-member practice squad.
To put it bluntly: Thursday night's game in Tampa will be considered the Super Bowl for dozens of players on both teams. Does that sound like an overreaction? Perhaps at first, but think of it this way: 90 players have been receiving paychecks from the Redskins the entire offseason. If they're cut loose after Thursday's game, for many, they don't know where or when their next opportunity to play will be.
The lucky ones will catch on to other NFL rosters or practice squads; some might catch on playing in Canada, perhaps. But for many others, Thursday's game could be their final shot to play football.
There's several positions of note to keep an eye on during the Redskins-Buccaneers matchup: running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line and at safety. The guys getting the chance to play at those particular spots – either due to the depth ahead of them or due to others with pending discipline coming down from the league – will be giving it all they've got to show President and general manager Bruce Allen, head coach Jay Gruden and their staffs that they could help the Redskins win football games this year.
JUST FOR KICKSAnother tightly-contested Redskins positional battle will likely see its conclusion Thursday evening.
Incumbent starting kicker Kai Forbath and rookie Zach Hocker have virtually been neck-and-neck throughout offseason workouts, OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason.
Unless Gruden and special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica choose to go with two kickers for the regular season – it's certainly been done before – then both kickers hope to get the most out of their opportunities vs. the Buccaneers and come out of the game with a job. These opportunities, obviously, include field-goal attempts, extra-point attempts and kickoffs, so you can bet both Forbath and Hocker will be rooting a little louder for the Redskins' offense to have their way against Tampa Bay's defense.
"You don't have a lot of reps, so every single one counts," Hocker told Redskins.com’s Stephen Czarda. "That means if you get one extra point, one field goal, three field goals -- whatever we get -- you have to make every single one of them count."
Forbath knows competition – whether it's annually or even more frequently – just comes with the job when you're a kicker in the NFL. He said he's just going to focus on doing his best and letting the coaches make the decision from there.
""This is the kind of job that you have to earn your spot every year," Forbath said. "So I just have to go out there (against Tampa Bay) and do what I have done since I have been here and the rest will take care of itself."
RUN, REDSKINS, RUN?Gruden on Monday said his first-team offense is still working to shape its identity, especially after three preseason games in which the unit showed some promise, but did not produce a touchdown in 10 total drives.
But anybody watching the Redskins the past couple years knows they have done one thing consistently well: run the football. Gruden certainly isn't shifting away from those strengths anytime soon.
"We need to be pretty good at everything, but obviously the strength of our football team at this moment would be – I would say – our running game," Gruden said. "We have to continue to work on that and work on handing that ball off and being good at something, really good at something and I think we are pretty good in the running game."
With Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. pretty much locked in as the No. 1 and 2 running backs for the Redskins entering the season opener Sept. 7 vs. the Houston Texans, the Redskins have four other running backs who will get their chance to shine Thursday vs. the Buccaneers: veteran Evan Royster, second-year player Chris Thompson and rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd.
Each player brings their own flavor and talents to the position, and while all four have displayed the ability this preseason to do something with the ball in their hands, any roster decisions, Gruden said, will likely come down to which one or two guys provide the most value in pass protection. The Redskins need running backs that will put their facemask into a rushing linebacker's chest when everything is on the line on 3rd and 8.
That being said, expect a lot of handoffs, as well, in Thursday's game. The yards aren't expected to come easy, however. The Buccaneers this preseason rank first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 75.3. Yes, it's just the preseason, but that low number can be attributed to the backup players who will be playing the entire game Thursday just as much as it can be to the starters who will be wearing street clothes on the sidelines. It should be fun to watch which Redskins running back(s) step up their game and become the leader in the clubhouse for that No. 3 job.
WILL SOME STARTERS PLAY?It's no secret that Gruden wanted to see more out of his first-team offense after Saturday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens. In what was supposed to be the unit's dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener, they completed just 5-of-8 passes for 20 yards and an interception, made several costly penalties and had trouble at times keeping Baltimore's defenders out of the pocket.
The NFL norm is to rest your starters in the fourth preseason game, but Gruden indicated Monday that he's given at least some thought into putting members of the first-team offense on the field Thursday vs. the Buccaneers.
"[I'm] open to the possibility, depending on how many bodies we have here," Gruden said. "After you make some cuts, you find out you don't have as many people here as you thought. But I think the big thing is we want to come out of this preseason feeling good about ourselves going into Houston."
Playing the offensive starters on Thursday could be very beneficial for Gruden and the Redskins. If they get what they want out of it – which, presumably, would be one or more long drives that result in six points – then they will have collected that all-important momentum as a unit heading into the season opener.
But if an offensive starter were to get hurt, then all of that momentum could go out the window.
"Feeling good means you've prepared yourselves and you're healthy, and we're fairly healthy right now and that's the big thing I want to get out of this group," Gruden said. "I want to make sure we're healthy going into Houston. So if we don't play the starters, it's only because I want them to be 100-percent healthy going into Houston."
Gruden said he expects to make the decision about playing starters this week after Tuesday's practice.
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