LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 29: Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins looks on from the sidelines against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at FedExField on August 29, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The final preseason game is supposed to clear-up any ambiguities regarding who makes the roster and who doesn’t. But after the Redskins rout of the Buccaneers Wednesday night, matters just got more complicated. Mike Shanahan has always made a point to emphasize that he wants competition up and down the roster, and he had to be pleased to see his players fighting admirably down the stretch. Whether the team as a whole has enough depth to be competitive in the division remains to be seen, but this is without a doubt the deepest Redskins team Shanahan has coached yet.
That said, he has a lot of difficult decisions to make with so many bubble players rising to the occasion Wednesday night, and below is my best guess of how the roster will shape up. As is the case with all my other projections, reactions are more than encouraged in the comments section.
They’ll be listed on the depth chart in this order as well. Rex Grossman wouldn’t be here if the coaching staff was ready to throw Kirk Cousins into the fire if Robert Griffin III can’t take the field. Say what you want about Rex, but there’s nothing to not like about a backup quarterback who knows the system like the back of his hand and can orchestrate steady drives.
The revolving door at running back will continue to spin, and I fully expect four different starters at the position this season. That the same number of starters the Redskins had a season ago, and this year, all but Alfred Morris have experienced dings and dents throughout preseason. But with such depth, there’s not much to worry about in regard to ground productivity as a team. Any healthy version of Tim Hightower, Roy Helu, Jr., Evan Royster or Alfred Morris can be a valuable asset.
Mike Shanahan doesn’t usually show us his cards during press conferences, but last night I think he let his hand slip a little bit. He emphasized how the value of a return man has diminished in today’s NFL with new kickoff rules and the fact that he can always be punted away from. Then, in traditional Shanahan fashion, he attempted to muddy his statement my explaining that teams would still love to have an explosive returner, but it wasn’t very convincing.
This doesn’t bode well for Brandon Banks at all, who had what was pretty much the most Brandon Banks game ever. He exploded downfield for an uncontested 47-yard catch and also gained 43 yards on a reverse, but managed to drop a pass, muff a punt and fumble a handoff in the same game. That’s why Banks is so polarizing; we know he can change a game, but he changes it for the worse as often (if not more) than he does for the better. I don’t feel any better about Banks’ chances of making the roster than I did in the past few weeks.
Anthony Armstrong likely made things very difficult for coaches with his final preseason performance. He had a lot of ground to make up after sitting with a shoulder injury, but he showed once again how he can beat press coverage and provide the team with a home run threat. His hands will always be questionable at best, but they aren’t so horrible that he can’t be called upon to make a play. Armstrong can be a productive receiver in this league as long as he’s in an offense that suits him.
What hinders Armstrong the most at this point is that at 29, he’s probably not going to get any better. The same can’t be said for young speed demon Aldrick Robinson, who brought a more honed skill set to camp this time around, and it finally paid off in game action. If we’re choosing between two players vying for a starting spot, I think the player who is better right now has to get the nod, and in that case it would be Anthony Armstrong. But we’re discussing a reserve role, and there is nothing to be lost from taking a player with the greater upside who could also contribute in the return game.
No more Chris Cooley, which means no more ambiguity in projecting which tight ends make the final roster. If Banks truly is out of the picture, Niles Paul would get my vote to assume kick returning responsibilities.
Rich Tandler pointed out something useful during Wednesday’s game via Twitter. He brought up the point that for as much scrutiny that the offensive line has endured, they have only allowed sacks in one quarter out of the entire preseason. He makes a fair point, and I’m sure he’d agree that it probably won’t be such smooth sailing once the regular season starts, but it deserves mention that the shaky unit has played pretty well thus far. Despite this, more depth than usual at the position will be necessary for the Redskins, whose starting five don’t exactly boast a clean bill of health very often.
Darrion Scott and Doug Worthington did a fine job generating interior pressure in the tail end of preseason, but that can be accomplished with the aforementioned six. Both will likely catch on with another team looking to add depth to their three-man fronts.
Marcus White is the odd man out in this case, and although he has youth and athleticism on his side, he is too-often caught over-pursuing plays despite making a few splashes this summer. Chris Wilson has played with much more discipline thus far, and has done enough to have his name plate on a locker to begin September.
I think a lot of people will disagree with no Bryan Kehl listed here, but I have my reasons. Even with a respectable preseason it’s difficult to justify a roster spot for him. For starters, he played much of the Colts game at outside linebacker, a position he had never practiced at with the team before. Some may interpret that as a testament to his versatility, but it can also be interpreted as the coaches emphasizing that he would have to do a lot to have any chance at securing a roster spot. It wouldn’t be bad by any means to have Kehl on the roster, but it’s hard to find something he brings to the table that no one else on the roster can provide. Lorenzo Alexander is the incumbent special teams ace, and though rookie Keenan Robinson could stand to spend some time on the practice squad, a team would be playing with fire if they waived a fourth-round pick.
The Kevin Barnes trade essentially secured a spot for Richard Crawford if he hadn’t done so already. However, it only intensified the battle for the final spot between David Jones and Brandyn Thompson, who both bring something different to the table. Jones has proven capable on special teams, and is an aggressive tackler. Thompson was drafted for his playmaking ability that he flashed in college, and has the athleticism to eventually become a versatile weapon in the slot or on the perimeter. At the end of the day, Thompson is still a raw prospect, but he’s still outperformed Jones where it matters most—in coverage. Factor that in with the investment of a draft pick the Redskins used to acquire Thompson, which despite being in the seventh round, is still more than what they spent to bring Jones in for a tryout.
Though Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather looked like new men this summer, a bigger sample size is going to be needed to quell murmurs of uncertainty at the safety position. It is for this reason that I think the Redskins keep five this year, with two seeing significant playing time for them a season ago.
Billy Cundiff converted three of four field goals in his Redskins debut, and attributed any rustiness to having virtually no time to practice with his new long snapper and holder. For his sake, I hope it’s a seamless transition or else he may have to change his name to Lois Einhorn.