Tonight’s game against the Ravens marks the final tune-up for Washington before their season begins on September 12th against the Los Angeles Chargers at home.
In a normal four-game preseason, game three is where we usually see starters play for at least a half. Tonight may be a bit different in it’s the last game for coaches to evaluate those players who currently sit on the roster bubble. But, this is also the final tune-up for the starters, and since the first team offense has had a bit of trouble in the first two games finishing drives, coaches may want to get an extended look at their ones before butting the reserves in.
Here are some storylines to watch in tonight’s game.
Who Backs up Fitz?
Taylor Heinicke has played ok this preseason, but he didn’t come close to making it a competition with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting quarterback spot. What will be interesting, however, is to see if Kyle Allen, who missed time earlier in training camp with some issues to his surgically repaired ankle, can overtake Taylor as Fitpatrick’s primary backup.
Can Peyton Barber Keep his Spot?
Coaches darling Peyton Barber, the man who averaged 2.7 yards per carry last season, finds himself in a battle to make this roster, and that decision likely comes down to if the team decides to keep three or four running backs. I, as most do, have Barber as the fourth running back among the lead contenders (Gibson, McKissic, Patterson, Barber).
Will Barber show enough to make the coaches think about a fourth back?
Wide Receiver Battle:
The top four spots are all but locked up with McLaurin, Samuel, Humphries and Brown leading the pack. It’s likely the team keeps just six, but a seventh could be in the cards if a return specialists is needed, and no one in the top six shows that ability.
The battle tonight should be between Cam Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Dax Milne and DeAndre Carter. All four will not be making the 53-man roster.
Sammis Reyes impressed in his rookie debut against the Patriots, but missed the Bengals game as he was placed in the NFL’s concussion protocol after the week one contest. He has been practicing this week and should be able to compete against the Ravens.
His spot is not yet locked up, and he’ll have to have a good showing to nudge out Ricky Seals-Jones for the third tight end job (unless the team opts to keep four). Blocking will be key for Reyes, who was singled out by his coaches after the first game for being the team’s most aggressive blocker. It certainly won’t hurt if he can show some of his athletic traits to snag a few receptions either.
Starting Left Guard:
It seems the offensive line is pretty much set with the exception of left guard. Ereck Flowers has seen an significant increase in time at left guard with the first group over Wes Schweitzer in the last two weeks, and it looks as though the spot may now be his to lose - but I don’t expect Wes to go down without a fight. This is a win-win for the team, as both are quality options to have.
Can Shaka Toney Earn a Spot?
Rookie Shaka Toney has had a very quiet camp...and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I feel a move to inside linebacker could help, but the staff seems content with the undersized EDGE staying put.
His athletic profile is intriguing, but his size alone may limit him to situational duties on the outside. He’ll need to show a bit of something tonight to make a compelling case to stick on the 53-man roster.
Will Jamin Davis Take the Next Steps?
Rookie linebacker Jamin Davis has had a quite training camp to date as he learns the nuances of the MIKE linebacker position. When he was drafted, Davis was lauded for his athleticism and coverage ability, but to date over the first two preseason games, we’ve yet to really see him really flash.
Surprisingly, he’s been on the sideline when the team in is nickel - with veterans Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb getting the nod inside. I think Jamin needs to stop thinking as much, and just learn to trust his eyes; but that comes with time and reps. Hopefully we see a big step forward tonight.
Can Troy Apke do Enough to Stick?
After switching from safety to corner this offseason, Troy Apke finds himself squarely planted on the roster bubble. He’s probably not needed (or good enough), to stick as just a corner, but his special teams ability may give him the edge.
If he can show well at corner tonight, it should help the coaches with their decision.
Safety in Numbers...
It seems like forever that we can say we have a crowded and talented safety room - but that’s the the exact case this preseason.
Landon Collins, Kam Curl and Bobby McCain are roster locks. Behind them are veterans Deshazor Everett and Jeremy Reaves and rookie Derrick Forrest. The former have played well, but the rookie has struggled mightily in some situations - both in coverage and missed tackles/assignments.
Tonight is the last game before final cutdowns that the candidates have to separate themselves and make a case for the 53. Coaches will need to decide if that magic number will be four or five safeties this season.
The Return Game:
The three phases to a football team are offense, defense and special teams. The latter can win or lose games... just ask any Washington fan.
The return game still has some question marks. It seems rookie Jaret Patterson may get first shot at returning kicks, but the punt return position remains open, and a lot of that hinges on how the wide receiver room shakes out.
Many feel DeAndre Carter should be kept for his punt return skills alone, but it could be tough justifying a seventh wide receiver just to field punts. It will be interesting to see who the staff puts back there to test during this final preseason contest.