Tonight is the last game before the Redskins have to trim their roster to 53 players. The team must trim 22 players off of the roster by 6 p.m. on Saturday.
There might be a surprise or two but after two months of offseason workout, OTAs, and minicamp, three weeks of training camp in Richmond, and four preseason games the cake is nearly baked. I see three areas where is true competition for roster spots and real decisions for the coaching staff to make. They are all on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s take a look at each of them.
It comes down to Tom Compton.
Compton, a sixth-round draft choice of the Redskins in 2012, is set as Trent Williams’ backup at left tackle. That part is not in question. But if the coaches trust him to play right tackle in a game, the Redskins could go with eight offensive linemen on the roster. If they determine that he should stick with left tackle, they will have to carry a backup right tackle, probably Tony Pashos. That means nine O-linemen and one fewer player they can carry at another position.
Compton said that he has been working exclusively at left tackle throughout the offseason but that he has been paying attention to what the assignments are on the right side. “When you're learning plays you always make sure to learn front side, back side, all that,” he said. “You never know so you've always got to be ready to jump in.”
Compton spent half of last year on the practice squad and half on the 53-man roster but he did not play a down in the regular season. He said that the worked both sides of the line last year.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is confident that Compton can handle the right side. “Left tackles usually go against better defensive ends, but besides that I think it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “He’s been pretty much at the left tackle spot, but you usually can’t be just strictly a left tackle. You’ve got to be able to do both.”
Of course, talking about being the swing tackle in the locker room and in a press conference is one thing. Actually committing to having a second-year player out of South Dakota being your one backup at the most important and second-most important position on the line is another.
The locks on the line are starters Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester, and Tyler Polumbus, interior backups Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus, and Compton. If Mike and Kyle Shanahan think that Compton can handle both positions, Pashos is like gone. If not, Pashos sticks.
It’s not just a matter of having eight or nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster. They also have to consider how many they will have active on game day. If they have different players backing up at right and left tackle they will have to keep eight linemen on the 46-man active roster. Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he like to have 21 offensive players on that 46. If you dress eight linemen and two quarterbacks that squeezes the number of skill position players you can have available.
I’m not sure if Pashos can do anything tonight to play his way onto the roster. If Compton looks good on the left side, as he has all during the preseason, the Shanahans could decide that he can handle things on the right. If Compton struggles, Pashos could get a job and they will sort out the numbers after that.
Here is where the ripple effects of the offensive line come into play. The Redskins will keep three quarterbacks, four tight ends, and fullback Darrel Young. That makes eight and if they keep nine O-linemen on the line that makes 17.
Typically, the 53-man roster has 25 offensive players, 25 on defense, and three specialists. That would leave eight spots for wide receivers and running backs. They will go with no fewer than five receivers so that leaves room for three running backs.
Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. are set so there could be only one more job. Chris Thompson appears to have the inside track with his return abilities but Evan Royster and Keiland Williams aren’t going to leave town without a fight.
It also would be unusual for Mike Shanahan to go into a season with on five wide receivers but we’ll look at that in a minute.
Now if Compton can back up left and right tackle and the keep eight on the O-line a spot gets opened up for a skill player. That likely makes Thompson a lock and Royster and Williams will battle it out for the remaining spot.
As noted, the Redskins will keep at least five wide receivers. The identity of those five was known when offseason workout started in April—Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson, Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss, and Aldrick Robinson.
Whether or not there will be a sixth wide receiver could, as you likely have guessed by now, hinge on the number of linemen they keep. Having eight linemen on the 53 makes it an easier call and there probably is a sixth wideout. Nine on the O-line makes it tough.
They could also squeeze an extra skill player onto the roster by going with 24 defensive players. You do want balance but Shanahan has gone 26 offense/24 defense in the past.
It sounds like Kyle Shanahan would be OK with keeping five receivers. “I’ve been on teams where we’ve had five; I’ve been here when we’ve had six,” he said. “It really has to do with the top 53. If you have got six receivers who are in the top 53, then six make it. If you don’t, then you go with five.”
In any case, it looks like if there is a sixth wide receiver it will be either Dezmon Briscoe or Lance Lewis. Briscoe probably has the edge based on experience. The coaches kept him on the 53-man roster last year despite the fact that he didn’t play much so they must like something about him. Lewis has practice squad eligibility so he could get a year to learn. But that isn’t set in stone. A big game by Lewis could persuade the coaches to keep him and release or perhaps trade Briscoe.