The Washington Redskins are in Nashville to kick off the 2013 preseason against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. While there was a lot more up in the air last year at this time, there's a lot more pressure on the 'Skins this time around. They're looking to iron some things out before attempting to repeat as division champions for the first time in 29 years.
Here's what we'll be watching closely as Robert Griffin III remains on the sideline in Tennessee...
1. Young, new-look secondary makes its debut
The 'Skins used three draft picks on defensive backs in April, and all three will start in the preseason opener. That's how weak and depleted this secondary is four weeks ahead of the season opener. Sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo has a strong chance to win the starting free safety job, while fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas is stepping in for the recently injured Brandon Meriweather at strong safety and second-round pick David Amerson is starting in place of DeAngelo Hall.
The early training-camp reviews for this rookie class of defensive backs have been positive. But the thing is, we haven't seen either safety tackle at this level yet. What happens against the Titans will help give us a clearer picture of how game-ready these guys are.
2. Another step for Brian Orakpo
The Redskins' best pass-rusher missed all but two games in 2012 due to a torn pectoral—an injury that also hampered him at the end of the 2011 campaign. We know that, when healthy, Orakpo is one of the most dangerous defensive players in the league, so the test Thursday night will be regarding his ability to perform without limitations.
3. Kirk Cousins takes control of the offense
People were up in arms when the 'Skins spent a fourth-round pick on another quarterback last April, but Cousins came up big in relief of RG3 last season. Now, as Griffin is eased back during the final stages of his recovery from early-offseason knee surgery, Cousins will run the offense as the starting quarterback throughout the preseason.
Thursday night, we'll have a chance to see how much he's grown in this extremely important offseason. And in addition to that, we might even get to see him attempt to run some zone-read plays. And speaking of the zone read, it'll also be interesting to see what they do with new addition Pat White.
4. Receivers inevitably emerge
It happens every year. The Redskins have Pierre Garcon and a slew of dark horses. Maybe Josh Morgan strengthens his weak grip on that starting spot opposite Garcon, or maybe someone like Aldrick Robinson, Leonard Hankerson or Dezmon Briscoe finally takes a big step forward.
Oh, and don't forget veterans Santana Moss, Donté Stallworth and Devery Henderson. There's a lot up in the air at the wide receiver position in D.C., and we'll begin to get some answers Thursday night.
5. Roy Helu makes a run at a third-down back role
Helu missed virtually the entire 2012 campaign due to injury, but he's looked good in camp and is an ideal candidate to relieve some pressure from No. 1 back Alfred Morris. Evan Royster is also going to make a push, as will rookie late-round picks Chris Thompson (when he's fully healthy) and Jawan Jamison.