The 2014 regular season is upon us.
With Thursday's fourth and final preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally behind them, the Washington Redskins turn their attention to preparing for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 against Houston Texans.
The Washington Redskins hosted the New England Patriots for the 2014 preseason home opener at FedExField on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.
But before the coaching staff really begins digging deep into the Houston game film, they have some tough decisions to make.
By 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, the Redskins must cut their 75-man roster down to 53, and then by noon Sunday – after the claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction passes – the team will put together its 10-man practice squad.
First-year head coach Jay Gruden said the roster reduction process is never easy.
"I'm a sensitive guy and I've been cut before and I hate it," the former quarterback said. "It's just part of the business, though, and they understand that, but it's never going to be easy when you have guys that work extremely hard to get to this point and they've busted their butt for you at training camp, OTAs, and been in the weight room, been on time to meetings and really done nothing wrong."
Gruden said many roster decisions this year will come down to one simple question: how much of an impact will this player make on special teams?
The Redskins last year finished either last or near the bottom of the National Football League in several key special teams statistical categories – most notably in coverage, giving their opponents prime field position several times throughout the year.
Preseason Week 2: Redskins vs. Browns
Gruden – the offensive coordinator the past three seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals – was hired in January, and brought along Ben Kotwica as his special teams coordinator.
Kotwica set the tone early that special teams should be just as important to a player as their assignments on offense or defense.
"Since Coach Kotwica has got here, he's made it clear – and then I've backed him and made it clear – that if it's close in a position battle, we're keeping the better special team player, and that's just a fact," Gruden said. "You've got to keep guys that are special teams players and we've got a few that are really battling that are really close in the position battles but they're doing very well on special teams. It really, really helps their chances."
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay head into the season hoping to see a little more consistency.
The Redskins' first-team offense did not score a touchdown in their 10 preseason possessions, but certainly showed flashes of what it was capable of, including a tough running attack with Alfred Morris and an aerial assault from Robert Griffin III to wide receivers Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and others.
The offense struggled at times in their regular season tune-up Aug. 23 against the Baltimore Ravens, and while Griffin III shouldered the blame at the team's quarterback, he said he knows what his offense is capable of doing.
The Washington Redskins traveled to M&T Bank Stadium to take on the Baltimore Ravens for Week 3 of the 2014 preseason Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014.
"I know it doesn't seem like it, but [the Ravens game] will help us get better," Griffin III said. "I know that I'm not going to allow what happens in the preseason to carry over to the regular season … I think all the guys on our offense will be ready to go when the season starts."
Defensively, the Redskins have been encouraged by the play of their starting unit through its three preseason games.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan – who had three sacks this preseason – said "guys are flying to the ball, and that's the most encouraging thing."
"We've seen a lot of hats in the frame at the end of each play," he said. "And that's what you want."
Like most of his teammates, however, Kerrigan is antsy for the Redskins' Sept. 7 debut.
"We want the games to start counting," he said. "Preseason is good, it's a good litmus test, good little warmup for the season, but we're ready for the games to start counting."