Who: Redskins (2-1) at Buccaneers (1-2)
What: Preseason game No. 4.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet and NBC4
Pre and postgame: Redskins Kickoff at 6:30 p.m. and Redskins Postgame Live at 10:30 p.m.
TAMPA—The starters won’t suit up for this one. But that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless.
For the players fighting for a backup job on the Redskins’ 53-man roster, their performance in the preseason finale at Raymond James Stadium can make or break their chances.
“It’s my intent for now, after a couple of good days of practice, to let the backups play,” Coach Jay Gruden said Tuesday. “So we can solidify those roles, [which are] very important. I think we have our starters. In general we feel pretty good about who they are and now we need to find the key backups, and who they are, and make sure they get ample reps to make the football team and show what they can do on the field.”
Here are three key battles to watch:
- Running back. Alfred Morris is safe, obviously, as is fullback Darrel Young. Roy Helu Jr. is in good shape, too. After that, there’s an intriguing battle brewing between Chris Thompson, Lache Seastrunk, Silas Redd and Evan Royster. Thompson, a Gruden favorite, is returning from a sprained ankle and must perform and emerge unscathed. Seastrunk, Redd and Royster all need strong performances to remain in the conversation. The big question is this: are there one or two spots available? Gruden hasn’t said. [Click here for more on this competition.]
- Kicker. According to Gruden, he’s comfortable with both Zach Hocker and Kai Forbath, who are locked in a virtual dead heat. But Gruden has said the Redskins will keep only one kicker and that Thursday’s performance will be the tiebreaker. Hocker is 2 of 2 on field goals and has forced two touchbacks. Forbath, meantime, is 3 of 4 on field goals and has forced one touchback. [Click here for more on this battle.]
- Inside linebacker. The first three are easy—Perry Riley Jr. and Keenan Robinson will be the starters and Adam Hayward will be a backup/special teams ace. But who gets the fourth spot? And will Gruden keep five? The guys battling are Will Compton, whose seven solo tackles lead the team, veteran Akeem Jordan, whose 14 combined tackles are tops, and Darryl Sharpton, who has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Compton is young and hungry but practice squad eligible. Jordan and Sharpton have an edge in experience.
For the players on the bubble, a good performance could punch their ticket. Conversely, a poor performance could eliminate them from consideration. The tiebreaker at many spots will be a player’s ability to contribute on special teams, a point of emphasis this offseason.
“Since Coach [Ben] Kotwica has got here, he’s made it clear and then I’ve backed him ... if it’s close in a position battle, we’re keeping the better special team player, and that’s just a fact,” Gruden said. “So it is a very important part of our team right now. It obviously was a problem last year and we’re trying to rectify that and you don’t rectify that by keeping guys who are not very good on special teams.”
Key position battles will be the overarching storyline, but there will other areas to monitor, as well. Here are three more questions the team at CSNWashington.com will be asking:
1-The safety rotation. With starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather facing a two-game suspension to start the regular season and backup Phillip Thomas nursing a sore foot, what will the safety rotation look like? On Tuesday, Gruden said Bacarri Rambo will get the first crack at replacing Meriweather in the starting lineup. How much does Rambo play, if at all? How about Trenton Robinson, Akeem Davis and Da’Mon Cromartie Smith? How do they look? One of them figures to grab the fifth safety spot.
2-Injuries. Thomas and cornerback Chase Minnifield (hamstring) were working off to the side during Tuesday’s practice, raising questions about their availability. Does either suit up? Both are listed a third stringers on the most recent depth chart.
3-The punter battle. Robert Malone beat out Blake Clingan. But the Redskins didn’t declare him the winner of the competition. Instead, they claimed left footed Tress Way after he was waived by the Bears. Way had a 27-yard punt and a 51-yard punt against the Ravens. His 51-yarder is the longest by a Redskins’ punter this preseason. Could Thursday’s performance be the tiebreaker?