The Biggest Winners and Losers of Redskins Training Camp, Preseason so Far
With almost three weeks of training camp and a preseason behind us, the time has come for players to show what they can do under the lights or face the waiver wire. While practice is nice, it's the games that count—and the games that players are measured by.
Robert Griffin III was everything advertised in his debut. He showed poise under pressure, ran through his progressions like a third-year player, and above all, looked the part of a franchise quarterback.
But while he grabs all the headlines, Griffin is not the only player to watch on the field in the next few weeks. There are several pieces to the puzzle, new and old, who are fighting to prove themselves in these games.
Here's a list of the winners and losers so far this preseason and what they need to do to turn things around or keep things going.
Winner: Pierre Garcon
If you count the first pass where Pierre Garcon was ruled out of bounds as a completion (which you should), he caught everything thrown his way against the Bills.
Should Garcon continue to be a steady target for RGIII, things will be much easier on the rookie quarterback. Every catch he made went for at least 12 yards, and that kind of playmaking ability will help pick up some tough first downs throughout the season to keep drives alive.
Reports from training camp indicated that Garcon had a knack for picking up yards after the catch, and that proved true in the Bills game. If he can continue to make big plays as the top receiver, it will help solidify a position in flux for a long time in Washington.
The important thing for Garcon to do going forward is to avoid the issues he had in Indianapolis with drops.
Loser: Brandon Banks
Special teams coach Danny Smith stood on the table to fight for Brandon Banks to get a roster spot last year. This year, he vowed to do the same thing, but that may not be enough.
Banks was a standout in training camp, routinely beating press coverage and making circus catches going over the middle. But when he got into a game situation, he was routinely shut down in the passing game and often slipped while making his breaks.
The biggest problem with Banks is his size. He doesn't have the ability to shield defenders with his body, so it's much harder for him to make a play on the ball uncontested. Unfortunately, that's not something he can change, so he'll have to find a way to make up for it.
As a returner, Banks was electric two years ago. But now, he has to recapture that excitement and show he wasn't just a flash in the pan. That feat seems all too difficult with the new kickoff rule, but he'll have to overcome it if he wants to be a Redskin this season.
Banks has been given plenty of slack the past two years, but at some point, he has to prove himself as a consistent contributor or face being cut. Potential only takes you so far in the NFL. Progress goes much further.
Winner: Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins has the benefit of low expectations. As a fourth-round draft pick, he was never meant to be anything other than a developmental project.
But now, it looks as though he could challenge Grossman for the backup position. He outplayed him, by far, against Buffalo and has kept up in practice. Besides a few errant throws and bad decisions, Cousins has a far better arm and was known for his leadership at Michigan State.
Grossman knows the offense and has experience, but with time, Cousins will gain that knowledge and experience and learn to make better decisions.
Mike Shanahan thought Cousins was too good to pass up for just a fourth-round pick, even if he didn't exactly fill a position of need. The Redskins hope to use Cousins like the Eagles used Kevin Kolb and eventually trade him for draft picks, or if that doesn't work out, then just work him as a backup to Griffin.
All Cousins has to do is keep improving in practice and wait until he gets his shot. So far, he has progressed well in camp and played well in his first game besides one interception. If he keeps it up while Grossman struggles, he may find himself right behind Griffin on the depth chart before too long.
Loser: Rex Grossman
Not many people have faith in Rex Grossman—and for good reason. The veteran tried to carry the load last year, but happens to have an epidemic for turnovers.
Kyle Shanahan knows Grossman from his Houston days, and therefore has a lot of trust in him. He knows the offense better than anyone and has years of experience as a starter. He will be instrumental in the development of Griffin and Cousins, but the clock is ticking on his playing days.
Against the Bills, Grossman struggled to find a rhythm. He completed only two passes for just over 20 yards, despite ample playing time. If needed, he can step in for a few games, but things have gone horribly wrong if he is needed to start more than that.
At this point, he should focus primarily on training the young quarterbacks and be ready to jump in whenever needed.
Winner: Evan Royster
Evan Royster got off to a shaky start against the Bills with a few runs stuffed at the line and a fumbled hand-off from Griffin, but that doesn't tell the story of who he is as a player.
Royster is a decisive runner with good instincts who knows how to fall forward to pick up yards. He doesn't shy away from contact, and he is improving in pass protection. So far, he has been the most impressive back in practice.
Pass protection and ball security should be his biggest areas of concern right now. While the fumble wasn't exactly his fault, it's the one thing that will complete sink him if it becomes a concern.
Shanahan is obviously most concerned with protecting his new quarterback, so likely, the back who can best pick up the blitz will win the starting job. The Bills didn't blitz much against the Redskins, so Royster will have to wait for another test to prove he can do it.
Loser: Tim Hightower
It's not so much what Tim Hightower has done in preseason; it's what he hasn't been able to do. Play.
Since his injury against the Panther's last year, Hightower has never been completely healthy. In a fierce competition for the starting running back position, that's not good.
If he can come back from injury, he'll likely have the starting position. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem like it will happen in the near future. Meanwhile, Evan Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris are getting all the reps in practice and games.
While not the best runner on the team, Hightower is probably the best in pass protection and is solid everywhere else. He played well before his injury last year even when the offensive line was suffering from injury and the offense was stalling on every drive.
The bottom line is that Hightower needs to get healthy to get his chance.
Winner: Adam Gettis
With Chris Chester injured, Adam Gettis got the call to start at right guard, and he did not disappoint. He was a factor in both the running and passing game against a good Bills defense.
On more than one occasion, he got off his first block and into the second level with ease. Specifically on Royster's 12-yard gain, Gettis got into his man and drove him back, before getting to the linebacker to spring Royster free.
With so many questions surrounding the health of the offensive line, it's nice to know that there is someone who can step in and play well if needed. Gettis isn't a starter yet, but if he continues to play at a high level, he could beat out Maurice Hurt and start in place of injured Kory Lichtensteiger.
Loser: Erik Cook
Erik Cook might have cost himself a roster spot against the Bills with his sloppy play. He never seemed to get his footing and drew two holding penalties in his short time with the backups. With Adam Gettis and Josh LeRibeus waiting to step in, Cook might just find himself on waivers before the end of preseason.
Cook started two games last year and played in four more. He was never anything special, but wasn't terrible in limited action. It's a good sign that he's become expendable, as it shows an upgrade in depth at offensive line.
Injuries could cause the coaches to let Cook stick around as a reserve, but with Josh LeRibeus, Maurice Hurt, Adam Gettis, Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester on the roster, there most likely won't be room unless someone goes to injured reserve.
Cook is only going into his third season and could easily improve, but he needs to do that quickly if he wants a spot.
Winner: Fred Davis
Fred Davis was quiet against the Bills, but there wasn't much room for opportunity in only 14 snaps. In practice, he looks just as he did before his suspension last year but has improved as a blocker.
Davis will be a major factor in the passing game once again this year and will likely be the second-leading receiver behind Pierre Garcon. With a new focus on staying clean, nothing short of injury will keep Davis from the field this year.
The NFL is trending toward athletic tight ends who can outrun linebackers and overpower defensive backs. Davis fits that mold perfectly, but still needs to improve as a blocker.
Chris Cooley is a slightly better blocker, but doesn't have nearly the speed that Davis does. His main concern should be staying healthy and out of trouble until the start of the season.
Loser: Niles Paul
Niles Paul is transitioning to a new position this year, and he has understandably struggled with it some. He was an excellent blocker on special teams last year, but needs to learn how to block bigger defensive ends and linebackers.
Against the Bills, Paul had one noticeable drop on a ball he should catch every time. He doesn't normally have problems with drops, but he needs to show some ability in the passing game. Receiving should be his strength, but so far, he hasn't shown much in that department.
Paul has the physical tools to make the transition from receiver to tight end, but he needs to start putting things together in the preseason games to come.
Winner: Chris Baker
Chris Baker has two career games that he's played in since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2009 with Denver. From there, he bounced to Miami and then Washington, where he has found a home at nose tackle.
Baker is a natural nose who can take on double-teams and fill holes in the running game. At just 24 years old, he is still learning the game and can still improve. At the very least, he can play in a rotation and hold his own.
He needs to work on opening up lanes for pass-rushers and driving offensive linemen back to collapse the pocket, but the same could be said of most nose tackles in the league. Right now, he's a young player, with a lot of raw talent, finding a home after an unstable start to his career.
Loser: Jarvis Jenkins
This should be prefaced by saying that Jarvis Jenkins still hasn't completely made it back from last year's injury. He still doesn't trust his knee, and because of that, he has a harder time getting a push off the snap to drive linemen back.
With more reps, he should shake off the rust and return to form, but as of now, he's not quite the same player. Last year, Jim Haslett raved about his play in preseason, and if he can play like he did then, it should help out the defense tremendously.
Jenkins made a name for himself opening up lanes for Da'Quan Bowers at Clemson. He's a natural fit for a defensive end in a 3-4 where he'll be asked to do the same thing.
There's plenty of time for Jenkins to get back into football mode, but the sooner the better. With Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker getting the starting nods, he should fit nicely into the rotation and can come in on passing downs to rush the quarterback.
Winner: Richard Crawford
Richard Crawford helped his stock more than anyone else on the team against Buffalo. He was solid in coverage, even recording a nice interception later in the game.
But perhaps most surprisingly, Crawford was the most effective return man on the night. He took three punts for a total of 42 yards, including a nice 17-yard return where he showed off some good moves in the open field.
With Banks struggling to make the team as a receiver and a complete lack of cornerback depth on the roster, Crawford should find himself on the field early in the season.
He needs to show consistency in the next three preseason games, on both defense and special teams. If he can make some more big plays on defense, he could even see some time with the first team in dime packages.
Loser: Kevin Barnes
Kevin Barnes has been given chance after chance by the Redskins since he was drafted. He struggled in the slot last year, but was moved outside this year.
Cedric Griffin and Morgan Trent haven't looked any better in practice, but Barnes will still need to show the coaches something if he wants the third spot ahead of Griffin. He has the speed and length to do well on the outside, but just hasn't been able to put it all together.
It's not too late for Barnes by any means, and even if he doesn't get it together this year, he'll probably still be on the team. But every year he doesn't improve, the coaches lose more faith in him.
Barnes needs to focus on coverage this preseason and show that he's not a liability. He'll have plenty of chances to prove himself once again, but he has to take advantage.
Biggest Winner: Mike Shanahan
In year three of Mike Shanahan's rebuild, he has secured a franchise quarterback, dominant left tackle, dynamic pass-rushing duo and competition at every position.
Assuming it all stays together, this team is miles ahead of what Shanahan inherited at the beginning of his tenure. There were plenty of mistakes made along the way, and still a lot that needs to be done; but if you're the head coach of the Washington Redskins, you have to feel good about the way things are going.
There might not be a playoff push this year, but there will be genuine excitement from one of the largest fanbases in sports and an exciting team on the field every game.
Robert Griffin III is a legitimate star and has already stolen the city's heart. In 14 plays, he validated the risk Shanahan took in giving up so much for the rights to the Heisman winner as well as Shanahan's abilities as a coach.
Many thought that Shanahan should be let go after last year's debacle with Rex Grossman and John Beck, but still, he persevered and kept to his original five-year plan.
So, congratulations Mike Shanahan. You're a winner—at least for now.
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