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With Roster Cuts Looming, Younger Players Maximizing Their Week


For many youngsters on the roster, the third preseason game is their last chance to make an impression before the first set of roster cuts on Tuesday.

Midway through the week before the third preseason game the anxiety starts to creep in, at least for those without a secured roster spot.

By next week, Tuesday at 4 p.m. to be precise, NFL teams must cut down rosters for the first time, from 90 to 75 players, a necessary evil, something that is "going to be difficult, but we have to do it and we'll figure it out," according to Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.

Less than a week later the roster will undergo more extensive renovations, when the coaching staff decides on its final 53 players to keep around. Until that time, players on the fringe are programming to treat this week's third preseason game as potentially their last with the Redskins, with the hopes that mentality gives them at least another week to prove themselves.

In other words, this week is an exercise in soaking up knowledge and making impressions with the belief that whatever plays you make on film catch the right eyes, if not in Washington, then in one of the other 31 NFL cities.

"You're the CEO of your own business," rookie running back Kelsey Young said. "You have to think about it business-wise. You have to do your best to maximize your potential with this team and also your career down the road, every scenario, the best case and the worst case."

Young, who played with Stanford before transferring to Boise State for his senior year, came to the Redskins as a tryout player and impressed coaches enough to keep him as an extra running back through the spring and training camp.

He admits this is a stressful time but he also carries perspective, something afforded to him by running backs coach Randy Jordan, who Young said has given him an understanding of his place on the depth chart and the things he needs to do to stand out.

"Every little thing that you do is noted and recognized by everyone in the organization," Young said. "When you're at practice, going that extra 10 yards on the finish on a play, or jogging to each drill or each period, those little things help you when it comes down to those hard times."

It is the uncertainty about who is watching that helps motivate these younger athletes. Rookie wide receiver T.J. Thorpe subscribes to this idea.

Last week against the Jets he fielded two punts – one a fair catch, the other returned for 17 yards – if only to help diversify his portfolio. He hardly played special teams at Virginia or UNC, and had to recall those instincts from high school. It was a challenge at first, but having teammates that knew their blocking responsibilities made it easier to react, and helped market himself as someone with more versatility.

"Even if we're not here, it's an audition for the 31 other teams," Thorpe said. "Maybe somebody we're playing against likes it or somebody sees it on film, so we're not necessarily playing for here, we're playing for everyone."

It is a strange and necessary mentality to have, especially in a team sport that relies on players working together. For many of these athletes, this is the first time they have faced uncertainty about the next chapter in their life and football career. In high school they were the star, in college they were assured scholarships and four years to rise through the ranks.

After Friday's tilt with the Bills, in which starters will be given the majority of snaps, their fate won't necessarily be in their hands.

"It's definitely all new," said linebacker Shiro Davis, who played four years at Texas. "It makes it harder, but at the same time you've got to be your hardest critic. Going from college to now when you have somebody saying alright, you did this, this, and that wrong, this is what you need to work on, it helps your game a lot more. It's just something you've got to do on your own."

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said Tuesday that having a lot of good players, especially on defense, is exciting and that it's a "good problem to have." It doesn't, however, make it any harder to let those players go.  

"It is always hard to cut people," Gruden said. "These guys have worked hard. We have them from OTAs, minicamps obviously, then training camp, and you get to know these guys, you work with them, you see their improvement and then to have to let them go, it is very tough. But you're right, we have great competition at a lot of spots. The numbers are what they are and we have to just be selective and it has to be done."

"All you can do is what you came here to do," Thorpe said. "Everything else is in their control. As far as I'm concerned I just put my best foot forward and let the chips fall where they may."

Or, as Davis put it more simply: "Everything I put on tape, make sure it's positive." 

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