At 7:30 p.m. EDT this Thursday, the Redskins will play a real... well, sorta real... football game again when they visit the Cleveland Browns in the first preseason game of 2019.
The first preseason game is often less about winning and losing than about evaluating individual players. Which position battles should Redskins fans have their eyes on this week?
Colt McCoy, Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins
So far, Jay Gruden isn’t giving anything away. Not counting Josh Woodrum, there seems to be a genuine three-way open competition in Redskins camp, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins each getting a share of the first, second & third team reps.
Journalists and other camp observers seem to be saying exactly the same thing that Gruden has been saying; that is, all three quarterbacks have flashed at times and all three have struggled at times. There seems to be no clear consensus on which player will be the starter in Philadelphia to begin the regular season, or even who should be that guy.
Quarterback? I think they’ve all done some really good think without a doubt and they’ve all done some things that we’ve got to coach. That’s just the way it is at the quarterback position.
Colt’s [McCoy] got the most experience in the system, but he still hasn’t played a whole lot. He hasn’t taken a lot of reps. Last year it was all about Alex [Smith], the year before that it was all about Kirk [Cousins], and getting them ready. He’s never really worked with the starting team a whole lot. You know, he only played about a game and half last year and he never got reps for that because it was a short week and then he got hurt, so we’ve got to get him more reps.
Case [Keenum] has all the reps, but he doesn’t have much experience in the system. He’s doing a nice job and obviously Dwayne [Haskins] is a rookie.
All three of them have shown flashes of being really good and really productive and all three have shown flashes of, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get better,’.
Jay was even being coy with the plan for rotating the quarterback reps for the Browns game. He was asked about it at both the Saturday and Sunday press conferences. On Saturday he basically just ignored the question, saying that the coaches would decide that later in the week - probably on Tuesday. When the question was repeated on Sunday, Jay expanded slightly while still giving no real information:
Yeah, we’ll just figure it out, ‘Hey, you got the first quarter, you got the second quarter, you got the third, fourth quarter, you aren’t playing.
I’m not sure how much we’ll learn from the first pre-season game, but it’s possible that one of the quarterbacks may look either very good or very bad in the first ‘live fire’ exercise of the year and separate himself, either positively or negatively, from the competition.
Jay has indicated that he’s willing to wait until after the end of preseason to name a starter for Week 1 of the regular season in Philadelphia, but the opinions tossed around on Twitter, articles and blogs will probably heat up significantly once we see all three guys on the field playing competitive football against another NFL team.
Cam Sims, Josh Doctson, Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims, Robert Davis, T.J. Rahming, Darvin Kidsy
If there’s another camp battle that appears to be as wide open as the quarterback competition, it is the battle to make the wide receiver group. Last year, with Alex Smith looking uncomfortable for 9 games and a total of four different passers running the Redskins offense, the wide receiver group was among the least impressive in the NFL.
This season holds out the promise of a more wide open offense with the likelihood of either Case Keenum, who is not known for having Alex Smith-like caution in the pass game, or Dwayne Haskins, with his cannon-like arm (or possibly a combination of both) throwing the ball to to a group of receivers that has seen a lot of potential added through recovery from injury (Robert Davis, Cam Sims, Paul Richardson) and the draft (Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon).
Josh Doctson, a former 1st round pick in his 4th season, does not appear to be guaranteed a roster spot, while some undrafted college free agents are among those impressing in camp.
If I'm ranking based on how players have performed at OTAs, minicamp and training camp, then I've got Cam Sims, Trey Quinn, Terry McLaurin, Josh Docston, Paul Richardson, Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims, Robert Davis, TJ Rahming, Darvin Kidsy https://t.co/0ZAJxT7UZ5— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) August 4, 2019
The Redskins usually keep 6 receivers on the 53-man roster, with 5 active on game days. The 5th receiver (at least) is expected to be active on Special Teams. It is likely that Trey Quinn will be the punt returner and Terry McLaurin will be a gunner, so that may give the coaching staff a bit more flexibility with the other players.
Paul Richardson is a lock based on his contract, and the fact that he is the real veteran leader of the group. Trey Quinn seems to have already locked down the starting slot receiver and punt return job. Terry McLaurin, through his on-field performance during camp, his draft status and his Special teams play seems to also be a roster lock.
That would leave 7 players competing for a maximum of 3 roster spots:
- Cam Sims
- Josh Doctson
- Kelvin Harmon
- Steven Sims
- Robert Davis
- T.J. Rahming
- Darvin Kidsy
It’s one thing to rank these receivers in camp where they play 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 without having to worry about any big hits, but the real separation will come in preseason games 1, 2 and 3, where the guys who can be consistent and also flash big plays on the field will win roster spots — especially if they can contribute on special teams. There will likely be at least two wide receivers cut prior to the regular season that will disappoint some fans.
Thursday’s game in Cleveland may tell us more about the fate of these seven receivers than it will about the three competing quarterbacks.
The player to watch here is Donald Parham — an undrafted college free agent out of Stetson.
Read: Donald Parham’s pre-draft profile
Read: Donald Parham’s UDFA profile
The 6’8”, 240 pound tight end absolutely dominated the FCS competition, and many people are excited to see what he can do against NFL defenses. He should offer a matchup nightmare for defenses. One commenter here on Hogs Haven this week was comparing him to former Eagles receiver Harold Carmichael.
If Parham can impress in preseason, he may make the roster decisions more difficult, as the Redskins may be forced to choose between keeping 4 tight ends or, possibly, cutting the popular and productive Vernon Davis, which would help the team’s salary cap position.
Other players to watch: Matt Flanagan, J.P. Holtz
Left Tackle and Left Guard
Donald Penn, Geron Christian Sr., Wes Martin, Ross Pierschbacher, Ereck Flowers
I doubt whether we’ll get a lot of clarity at these two positions in the first preseason game — this will be a longer process of figuring out the starters and backups — but it will provide Redskins fans with a first look at a number of players. Donald Penn will likely get some time at left tackle along with Geron Christian, who is trying to come back from an injury that cut short his rookie season before he really showed much development. Wes Martin, the 4th round pick out of Indiana who has looked uneven in camp, and Ross Pierschbacher, the 5th round pick out of Alabama, should both get time on the field to show what they can do against NFL competition. Of course, Ereck Flowers is likely to see time on the field as well — hopefully at guard rather than tackle — in his attempt to resurrect a career that appeared dead after stints with the Giants and Jaguars.
Jon Bostic, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Cole Holcomb, B.J. Blunt
With both of last year’s Week One starters gone — both cut by the front office this off-season — the Redskins ILB group will have a new look in 2019. There probably isn’t a lot of mystery about the starters. It appears that Jon Bostic is already penciled in to wear the green dot on his helmet, and he is seen as a capable (and cheaper) replacement for Mason Foster. The other likely starter is Shaun Dion Hamilton, but I think most Redskins fans will be keen to see how the two players look on the field together.
In addition, many people will be keen to see if Cole Holcomb, drafted in the 5th round out of North Carolina, can add speed and good special teams play to upgrade this unit in 2019.
The ‘bubble’ player to watch at this position is UDFA B.J. Blunt, many people’s favorite for the undrafted player most likely to win a spot on the 53-man roster.
Jordan Brailford, Cassanova McKinzy, Marcus Smith, Marquis Flowers
The competition here is not for the starting positions — Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat and Ryan Anderson are roster locks.
The battle to watch here will be the ‘bubble’ players:
- 7th round pick Jordan Brailford, who was just activated from the PUP list
- Cassonova McKinzy, who impressed in limited action in 2018
- Marcus Smith, former first-round pick of the Eagles who was an under-the-radar signing in 2018
- Marquis Flowers, a 6th year player signed as a street free agent in December last year
Only one or two of those players will make the final roster, and this week’s game in Cleveland could go a long way towards deciding who has the upper hand in this camp battle.
While I think the positions and players discussed above are likely to comprise the most interesting positional battles to watch for on Thursday night, there will certainly be a few others that fans will want to pay attention to.
Five players competing for one roster spot:
JoJo Wicker, Andrew Ankrah, Austin Maloata, Jonathan Bonner, Ryan Bee
Roster locks: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau
Seven players competing for (probably) three roster spots:
Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Stroman, Adonis Alexander, DJ White, Jimmy Moreland, Deion Harris, Danny Johnson
Three players competing for (probably) one spot:
Troy Apke, JoJo McIntosh, Jeremy Reaves
Roster Locks: Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson
NFI: Bryce Love
Four players competing for (maximum) one spot:
Samaje Perine, Byron Marshall, Craig Reynolds, Shaun Wilson