Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Saturday's Redskins-Packers Preseason Week 2 showdown at FedExField.
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FINDING THE STARTING DUO AT INSIDE LINEBACKER
It's a competition that will continue to be played out over the next few weeks, but the Redskins are going with a different starting combination at inside linebacker for Saturday's game against the Packers.
In the preseason opener, it was Mason Foster and Will Compton that got the starting nod. This week it will be Foster and Zach Brown, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in his lone campaign with the Buffalo Bills.
"Right now, for this game, we're going to start with Mason and Zach – Mason at Mike and Zach at Mo (position) – and after that we'll see what happens, see how they perform and go from there," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said.
Brown, Compton and Foster rotated their time with the first-team defense throughout training camp, but when the team returned to the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., it was Brown and Foster who worked with the first-team.
Despite this week's decision to roll with Brown and Foster, Compton certainly remains in the mix of this battle. He was a defensive captain last season and recorded 106 tackles in 15 games.
"Obviously Will Compton's very smart and has been a great leader for us," Gruden said. "He's a great communicator, which you have to have at Mike linebacker. I think Mason Foster can play both positions equally as well – Mike and what we call Mo – and he's a good communicator. Obviously Zach Brown has a great skill set for playing linebacker. He can go sideline to sideline probably athletically faster than majority of the linebackers we have. So I think the three of them all have the qualities to play, so it's just a matter of finding the right match, and who that's going to be will be determined here in the next couple of weeks."
ANSWER THE 'WAKEUP CALL'Last week against the Ravens, the first-team offense appeared on six plays but failed to net a first down.
Quarterback Trent Williams was 1-of-2 for five yards while running back Rob Kelley picked up just two yards on three attempts.
Cousins admitted that the performance was a "wakeup call."
"I think it's a realization that we have a long ways to go and I think that can be a good thing in the long run," Cousins said. "It can be good to have that wakeup call. It could be the best thing we need right now."
Gruden said that when it comes to the "wakeup call," it comes down to being prepared to face a Packers team that is also trying to get ready for the 16-game regular season schedule.
The head coach said the starting offense could play a "little bit more than normal" depending on their performance early against Green Bay.
"You know, six plays, two three-and-outs for the No. 1 offense wasn't what we expected, but we expect our offense to come out and play a little bit better, more physical, try to get the running game going a little bit," Gruden said. "Two-point-two yards per carry is what I was most disappointed in the whole game. For us to be a physical football team, we have to be able to run the ball better."
NOW IS THE TIME TO SHINE, SHAZE
With Su'a Cravens currently sidelined following a knee scope this week, Deshazor Everett is next in line to start at the strong safety position.
During Wednesday's practice session, Everett worked alongside starting free safety D.J. Swearinger.
Everett flashed on the afternoon and logged a pass defensed on Jamison Crowder route in the end zone. Had the Texas A&M product not been in the right place at that exact moment, it would have been a touchdown for the offense.
"I had to work on my keys," Everett said of the play. "That's why I was able to make that play, honestly, just reading my keys, reading the quarterback, and just breaking on the route… when I saw Crowder breaking I just drove on it."
One of the most active players on the field, the play showed just how far Everett has come over the last two seasons at safety.
Originally a cornerback coming out of college, Everett remained at the position before moving to safety last offseason.
"It's a major adjustment period," Gruden said. "As an offensive guy, I think a DB's a DB right? 'It's a DB, just go back there and play safety.' But it's a lot harder than you think – angles, positions, communication, run fits, finishing plays, all that stuff. I think he's becoming more and more comfortable playing a middle third, playing a half, playing quarters. His run fit responsibilities – when they shift out to empty, when they go unbalanced – I mean there's a lot of things a safety has to communicate and I think he's learning more and more and feeling more comfortable."
PICKING OUT O-LINE REASSURANCE
As has been the case through the entirety of workouts and practices this year, the Redskins have stuck with the same starting offensive line under assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
Check out these photos of the eight college free agents that the Redskins have signed for the 2017 season.
Trent Williams and Morgan Moses flank the group at the tackle spots with Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff at left and right guard respectively and Spencer Long at center.
Backup tackle Ty Nsekhe, of course, has proven capable of successfully entering games on the fly or spot starting. But the battles behind the guard and center spots, particularly at guard have heated up recently.
College free agent signings Kyle Kalis and Tyler Catalina have been working with the second-team offense while 2014 fourth-round pick Arie Kouandjio and Isaiah Williams remain with the third unit.
How all four perform against the Packers will be added to the evaluation period before cuts are made.
"Arie has been here and done a nice job. He played last year and did some good things when he did play," Gruden said. "Catalina we got as a free agent from Georgia and he's done some good things and obviously Kalis is from Michigan. Catalina's played a little bit of left guard, right guard and tackle. We're trying to find out if he's versatile enough to do that, which is important, and then Kalis has played both guards and obviously so has Arie.
"Arie's mixed in a little bit of tackle, so at the end of the day we're just going to have to let these guys play and make a decision."