Four days until kickoff in the Meadowlands. Time for at least one last look at the preseason. These are five players that I thought had really great preseasons. Tell me where you agree or disagree...after the jump.
Fred Smoot- Now 30 years old, Smoot has faded into more of a support role in our secondary, pencilled in as the third corner. In today's NFL though, the third corner plays a lot of ball. I was at least a little concerned that his best days were behind him. He has had his share of injury problems over the years and coming into this season, it seemed that he would have to fight off Justin Tryon and Kevin Barnes for his roster spot. Both Tryon and Barnes appeared raw and unready to be our 3rd corner. But Smoot's play was actually at a pretty high level this preseason, so it would be unfair to say that he is only as high as he is on the depth chart because Tryon and Barnes got roasted in the preseason. Smoot not only got reps in at safety and corner, he also seemed to take more of a leadership role in the secondary. As long as Carlos Rogers starts the season healthy and strong, I think our cornerback position is especially solid.
Hunter Smith - I unfairly criticized him after the Ravens debacle. We all know what a show our punting has been the last few years. This preseason, he has averaged just under 45 yards per punt, which puts him in the middle of the pack in the league, but his consistency has been impressive--he is tied for 4th most punts this preseason. He gets good angles on his punts and he has shown an ability to get it inside the 20. After 4 preseason games, he is not leading the league in anything, but as Redskins fans, we aren't looking for the second coming of Ray Guy. We just want someone who has more going for him than a crazy hot wife (thank you Mrs. Frost.) I liked what I saw from Hunter the Punter this preseason. P.S. I heard his ball holding skills are exquisite as well.
Marko Mitchell- Come on, you didn't think we could do an article like this without Marko did you? Three straight games with a touchdown and a stellar August in general put this guy on the map and on the 53-man roster. He has materialized as a guy who has a nose for the end zone. Correct me if I am wrong, but every touchdown he caught he was covered right? Granted, the cover guy might be working at a 7-11 right now, but he was never running alone deep down the field. The first two touchdowns required a hell of a lot of concentration and skill just to make the catch and get his feet down. All of the catches required him to fend off a defender and make a play on the ball. These are all things that this team can use--right now. That he was a 7th round pick and he brings this to our roster is just beautiful.
Brian Orakpo- It gives me great pleasure to write the names of two rookies down in this column. There was decidedly more pressure on both the team and Orakpo himself for #98 to contribute right away. We now know that neither the team nor the player will be accused of forcing it from here on out. He is a nasty, nasty dude. Did you see anyone this preseason get held more than Orakpo? My faith in the league and its officials is riding completely on their ability to call that correctly this season. As a pass rusher, Orakpo is unlike anyone we have had here in a long, long time. While he is smaller than the tackles he will be facing from time to time, he has shown the strength necessary to overpower bigger guys. And his first two steps toward the quarterback have caused a handful of penalties already on linemen who were either too far off the line of scrimmage or who tried to start a tick early to block him. He is honing his more general linebacking skills each day, and the best we can hope for right away is that on plays where he doesn't rush the passer, the other team runs the ball. He is a very good tackler (though he could stand to watch a little more London Fletcher footage to improve there.)
Fred Davis- To fill out the last spot, I wanted to find a guy who fell miserably short of expectations last season. Fred Davis fits that bill. He was largely inactive last season, and in order to even attempt to meet expectations you have to get on the field. He was reportedly behind in picking up the offense, and his effort level came into question at times. This preseason, we have seen a guy who looks like he actually cares about succeeding at this level. His hustle on special teams is a breath of fresh air. It is a hustle unit that also requires concentration on your individual job. His hands looked like feet in the opener against Baltimore, but he got that under control as the preseason trudged on. His touchdown catch from Chase Daniel against the Steelers was a perfect example of him serving as a red zone target. That is what he needs to be for us this year. In the last two preseason games, he was doing a lot of blocking. If he can get his blocking down, he can get himself on the field more opposite Chris Cooley and once on the field, the options for this offense rise exponentially.
Best of the Rest - I thought Jason Campbell looked focused, but his 51% completion percentage wasn't enough to crack the top five. Philip Daniels looked solid, as did Chris Horton and LaRon Landry. I am looking for Landry to step it up to the elite level this season. (I would love to see him avoid a head-on collision with Brandon Jacobs on the 13th.) Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly both looked worlds better than last season at this time, and leave me very optimistic for the season.
Disclaimer: No placekickers were considered (or harmed) during the production of this column.