1. I am going to have to ease back into the regular season with some preseason versions of the Ten Yard Fight. I thought I would use this initial offering as a kind of checklist ahead of tonight's preseason tilt against the Detroit Lions. For those who think that I somehow wish I didn't have to watch preseason football, or that I wish we would be spared from the terrible television that can ensue when preseason football is played...you clearly don't know me. Like many of you, I LIVE for terrible television. Few characters on the boob tube are as compelling to watch as the Washington Redskins, with their special brand of "will they or won't they" when it comes to, you know...catching the ball, getting first downs, scoring points and other fundamental aspects of the game. Imagine the boredom of watching a Green Bay Packers team executing plays...for positive yardage...and gads of points. No...thank...you.
2. I kid. The preseason has been like our Christmas morning every year for quite some time. Different regimes brought with them different styles of play. Different styles of play called for roster overhauls. Roster overhauls resulted in drafts and free agency stints that netted us any number of shiny new toys. Presents wrapped under the tree represented the unknown. On the August gridiron, we have always gotten to get our first chance to open and play with our new toys. With yet another first year under a new front office head, we get yet another pile of new presents to unwrap. I think we can all agree that this year feels different. I think we can all agree we have said this before. I think we can all agree that we really, really believe it this time, though! Here is what I will be thinking about and watching for tonight from the comfort of my basement recliner (between the kickoff and the final whistle, that is).
3. Defensive line -- Thank God Ashley Madison wasn't using pictures of the retooled Redskins defensive line in its advertising to convince us to cheat on our spouses. If they did, I think they would be able to cross-reference a huge swath of the leaked users list with the membership of Hogs Haven. Simply put, I'm excited about these defensive linemen. We all know that you win the game on the line of scrimmage, and when you have a guy named "Pot Roast" (Terrance Knighton) smack dab in the middle of your defensive line, you have a to chance to win some battles. I will be rewinding and slow-mo watching countless plays that feature beastly power moves from the interior of our defensive line. And it will be glorious.
4. Matt Jones -- This is not about any--ANY--ill will towards Alfred Morris, or any--ANY--thoughts about the end of the Alfred Era. This is about the reality of the NFL, and the likelihood that our team can't be a legit contender without a solid second running back. Jones is a bruiser. He's hard to bring down. He's the kind of running back where you can actually see defenders adjusting the angle of their tackle to try and avoid the kind of impact more commonly associated with dating a Kardashian. It remains to be seen how his style of play will evolve--after all, these tend to be the kinds of players who stand to hurt themselves as much as they hurt other people...you know...like dating a Kardashian. I want to see Jones avoid a few hits tonight, punish a few defensive backs and get out of the game healthy. I love me some Alf...but it could end up being the contribution of Jones that puts this offense over the top.
5. Jamison Crowder and Junior Galette -- Issues off the field have haunted these players, and while those issues continue to work themselves out, these guys have to show what they are capable of doing on the field for this team. If they are available for the Redskins, it appears that they both could make material contributions. I typically tend to avoid getting emotionally involved in a player when these kinds of cloudy waters exist, but for me, this is all about McLovin' and his decisions. He got comfy with signing Galette, and has so far been justified in that comfiness. On the Crowder front, McLovin' clearly sees a skill set that can be productive on the field for us. I don't know if it was possible or not to have seen or known about Jamison's problems, but here's hoping that McLovin' didn't step in a huge pile of Cerrato on that one. In the meantime (the preseason), we get to gain a better understanding of what McLovin' is looking to do, and that part of it is fun. That part of it is a real source of hope.
6. Chris Culliver -- By all accounts, this free agent signing might have brought the most value. Thus far in camp, he has been a sure tackler, a lockdown cover corner, and he has stayed healthy (don't worry, knocking on wood). I will be looking to see if Matthew Stafford tests his side of the field on a regular basis this evening. Culliver is like that .350 hitter that pitchers pitch around. Our other corners are like the batters before and after him, getting more good pitches to look at...the fun lies in what they will be able to do with the increased action.
7. Joe Barry -- I'll keep this short. Barry did not exactly...uhhhh...come into town riding a wave of jubilation. He was quickly identified as perhaps the riskiest signing of our offseason. Whenever we are on defense tonight, I will be looking for some semblance of a scheme that will make us all forget about the Haslett years. In the initial drives of the game, when the starters are in there, I will be watching the body language of the veterans. If you recall over the last few years, it wasn't difficult to identify certain moments of displeasure and distrust on the field. Players were clearly unhappy at times with the responsibilities they were given, most notably DeAngelo Hall. I will be looking for that buy-in tonight and throughout the remaining preseason games.
8. Preston Smith -- Much like his namesake in the movie "Can't Hardly Wait," Preston is...sorta tall, likes wearing t-shirts, has hair...you get the picture. ("Pres-STONE!!!!!) You all know I love this player. It says here that he will be a FORCE to be reckoned with by season's end. I predict he will be hard to take off the field in short order. Every play I get to see of him in preseason will be relished. These are the first steps of a career in its infancy. We are witnessing the development of a player that could (WILL) have a gigantic impact on our organization for a decade, and that development is being overseen by a GM that knows--intimately--what it takes to build a ferocious defense. If you are searching for flavor in a preseason game, this kind of storyline is a key ingredient. Watch how he attacks. Watch how he moves. He will make mistakes--watch how he learns. This is the one of the true joys of preseason--seeing a rookie make mistakes but not repeat them.
9. Brandon Scherff -- When Thomas Hobbes described life as "nasty, brutish and short," he was likely looking out into the future and seeing images of Brandon Scherff playing football on Sundays in burgundy and gold. Ask me if I care about whether Scherff plays guard or tackle. Or don't...because you know, I'm going to tell you anyway...or "irregardless." (I love that word.) This guy makes us better no matter where he lines up on the line. He is mean, and he is capable of imparting his meanness to the player lined up across from him. I will be watching every play he is on the field for with both eyes on him. The fact that this coaching staff is going with Scherff and Morgan Moses on the right side should be enough to make us all put a pillow over our crotches when people enter the room. Isn't this what we have been screaming for the last...decade? A young, promising tackle/guard tandem that can draw attention away from Trent Williams and the left side of the line is absolutely essential for the success of our running game. You KNOW Scherff can run block, given his Kirk Ferentz pedigree. Tonight, in addition to watching how we do when we run behind him, I will be watching to see how effective Brandon can be in pass protection. Between Scherff and Smith, it is not hard to understand the vision McLovin' has for this team.
10. "Dynamic"/scheme/tempo -- None of us cares about winning tonight. The final score is so far down the list of things that matter, there is no need to get worked up about it (unless our starters somehow can't get a single point or something else dramatically terrible). I am looking for tempo on offense. Get into and out of the huddle with purpose. Dictate our game to the Lions. Stay away from the dumb penalties. No stepping on each other's feet. Basic stuff like that...too much to ask? I know we won't be giving away the farm as far as our playbook is concerned, but I want to see our "new" identity on the field. Our scheme on offense is decidedly run-oriented, so let's show we can run the ball with passion and determination. There is no need to wait until September to establish a physical presence on offense. Let's see how the new offensive line dynamic is working at this point. Let's see the plays get called timely. Let's see players demonstrate a sense of "we know what we are doing." Preseason football games can make for some terrible television to be sure...but terrible television is what this country is all about. Tonight, I'll be celebrating being a Redskins fan...but more importantly, I'll be celebrating being an American. Damnit...I promised myself I wouldn't cry.