Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda provides six things that we learned during the Washington Redskins' 2016 preseason schedule.
1. The Redskins will have quite a few tough roster decisions to make by Saturday afternoon.It's one of the downfalls of building a strong roster. Good players will be let go, likely to land on their feet elsewhere and even face the Redskins down the road.
Earlier this week, the Redskins began their cut down process, releasing veteran linebacker Perry Riley Jr. and Stephen Paea among the 15 roster moves made.
"It takes a lot of thought and a lot of times now when you have the depth that we feel like we have, it's not so much about the player we release, it's about the players that we kept," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "We'll try to keep it at that. I think we've got some guys at linebacker who have played extremely well and we've got some guys on the defensive line who are competing and doing a good job. Those two guys are excellent football players, I imagine they'll latch on somewhere else and do well. They have a lot of football left in their career. They're both great guys that worked hard, and it's just part of the decision process."
With deep position groups such as wide receiver, tight end, inside linebacker and safety, Gruden added that it "speaks volumes" to how far the Redskins have come recently.
"We do have a lot of guys in this locker room we're going to let go that can play," Gruden said. "Hopefully, we'll figure out ways to get them back here. We have 10 practice squad spots too. We'll have to wait and see. There's a lot of decisions. There's a lot of good players around the NFL that are going to get cut in the next couple of days so we'll have to go through all of them and make our decisions."
2. The first-team units were effective in their limited action.Against the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener last month, the first-team offensive and defensive units saw only a series of work, but both had positive performances.
Kirk Cousins was perfect through the air, completing all five of his pass attempts, while the defense forced two three-and-outs to start the game.
Then after nine of the team's top players did not play against the New York Jets in preseason Week 2 action, they returned to the field against the Buffalo Bills, playing the majority of the first half.
After the offense got off to a sluggish start, gaining just 48 yards on the first 19 plays of the game, Cousins rallied the troops to three touchdowns before halftime.
"Yeah, you know, it's going to be a four-quarter game for the 16 that we play this season and we're going to have slow moments or slow quarters at times," Cousins said. "The key is going to be to find a way to circle the wagons and regroup so that by the end of the four quarters we put together a good performance. Certainly in the time we had tonight the body of work overall was pretty productive but there were moments where it wasn't as good as it needs to be, and we know that. A lot of the stuff I feel will be easily correctable and over the long haul will even itself out."
The defense, meanwhile, didn't allow a touchdown in the first half. Josh Norman was particularly strong in the outing, as the cornerback forced a few incompletions including one pass in the end zone.
"I thought the defense was menacing," Norman said. "I thought we were physical to a point. Guys were out there making big plays. The defensive front was out there getting off the ball. The linebackers were flying around and the secondary was breaking on the football and breaking up passes. I think that's what you've got to have to have a good defense."
3. The Redskins' younger running backs showed quite a bit of potential.With Matt Jones only taking snaps in the first two games before being sidelined with an AC sprain, and Chris Thompson handed the ball just five times in his pair of appearances, the Redskins were able to get extended looks at Robert Kelly and Mack Brown.
Kelley was consistent throughout the preseason, as he finished the four-game slate with 38 carries for 198 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
In the Redskins' victory over the Bills, Kelley faced off with Buffalo's first-team defense, collecting 51 yards on 12 carries.
Kelley was signed by the Redskins in May after a four-year career at Tulane in which he wasn't always asked to be the team's No. 1 running back.
"Didn't get a lot of opportunities but really came in here and with the injuries that we had and the lack of players that we had at that back position from time to time, he got the reps," Gruden said. "And when you get the reps, [there are] two options – you can take advantage of them or you don't, and he took advantage of them. Made great cuts, had great vision, we could see that on the inside runs and some of the outside runs he had good patience, protected the ball and he's caught the ball well."
Kelley said he's going to "sweat it out" over the next 24 hours as he learns his fate.
"You can never be sure," Kelley said. "At the end of the day, it's still a business, so you never know what's going on upstairs. But, I think I did pretty well, but I'm not going to run with it until it happens."
Brown, meanwhile, had a standout performance in the preseason finale, as he ran for 149 yards on 19 carries, highlighted by a 60-yard touchdown run.
He finished the preseason with 227 yards, putting the Redskins in a position to potentially include him on the roster as well.
"Mack makes some big runs and some big plays," Gruden said. "I was happy to see Mack. I think he really did show up. It's making the decision even tougher. Hopefully we can figure out a way to keep all of them but we'll get together as a scouting staff and coaching staff, and figure it out."
4. Deshazor Everett flashed at safety and on special teams.While the safeties group is one full of veteran talent, the 24-year old Everett brought energy to the defense every time he stepped on the field, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 13.
He also forced a fumble against the Jets and a pass defensed against the Buccaneers that turned into a diving interception by Duke Ihenacho.
"Everyone's opportunistic so when you get your chance to make a play, you've got to make that play," Everett said. "You are going to get opportunities to make a play. That's how football works. 'They're not beating this guy, alright let's try this guy right here. Oh we're not getting it right here, let's try this guy right here.' It's the NFL, you've got to be ready every play."
While Everett sits behind DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon at free safety on the unofficial depth chart, he could earn a roster spot based on his special teams play.
"I have a standard; I at least want to make two tackles in a game and if you can make two tackles on special teams you're doing something that day," Everett said. "If I can get more that day than obviously I'm doing better than I was last year. Last year I was 'Let me make a tackle this game.' I always want to challenge myself to do better."
5. Martrell Spaight and Su'a Cravens aren't messing around.
While Will Compton and Mason Foster are the listed starting Mike and Mo linebackers for the Redskins, Spaight and Cravens could both play quite a bit this year.
With the 53rd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected linebacker Su'a Cravens out of USC. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
Spaight appeared in just one game last season before a season-ending concussion, but looked as if he didn't miss a beat in his return during the preseason. He finished the preseason leading the Redskins in tackles with 15.
"I feel like the game has been slowing down for me," Spaight said. "I credit that to Will Compton. I've been spending a lot of time with him in the film room and outside the film room. He's just been breaking down the game of football itself simply to me in terms and ways that I can understand. It just feels like the game has been going slow for me so I've been able to play faster."
The energy he's brought to the defense has extended well past the playing field, though, as his impassioned speeches have helped the linebacking corps get fired up for games.
"I'm just like that every game," Spaight said. "It's the approach that I have every time I go into a game and I just want my teammates to play with that same fire and intensity behind them."
Cravens, meanwhile, was "all over the place in his preseason debut against the Falcons, setting the tone for a solid start to his professional career.
The USC product's role on the defense hasn't yet been determined, by his presence on the field could change games.
"You know,  years old, he's still learning and growing and I think when he gets a couple of years in the league he's going to be all over the joint, but right now I think this is a great starting point for young football players," Gruden said. "Learning the position, he's going to master this position so that we can branch off and use him in different areas. Pro football's not that easy for a guy coming out of college to learn two or three positions. It's hard enough to learn one. So let's just focus on one right now and we'll branch off later."
6. Depth at wide receiver could cause troubles for opposing defenses all season long.
Even with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder in fold for the Redskins once again, Ryan Grant and Rashad Ross both tried to show that they're deserving of a few targets as well.
Grant finished the preseason with eight receptions for 114 yards, 38 of which came on a catch-and-run touchdown against the Bills.
The third-year Tulane product appears comfortable in the slot receiver position behind Crowder.
"He's playing a different position playing inside more than outside the numbers and it gets him a little closer to the football and sometimes you get a few more touches that way," Cousins said after the Falcons game. "He did a really good job tonight and we really do have confidence in him as a player."
As for Ross, he finished the preseason leading the Redskins in receiving yet again, hauling in three touchdown receptions.
The consistent vertical threat also showed progress on his ability to be more than just a burner.
"I mean, honestly I have nothing to lose," Ross said. "I was an undrafted free agent. I did what I had to do last year to make the team. This year, I feel like I did enough to make the team, so if I don't make the team, I don't. At the end of the day, I gave it my all, so I'm not going to be mad. I'm not going to have my head down if my name gets called to be released. Because it's 31 other teams out there that's seeing what I can do. I would love to be here, though."