No, the game didn’t count. No, clarity wasn’t received regarding Robert Griffin III’s regular-season status. Nonetheless, there were many silver linings in Washington's performance for the upcoming season.
With that said, let’s examine five takeaways from Washington’s preseason opener.
The Valuable Kirk Cousins
Starting in place of the injured Griffin, Cousins finished 6-of-7 for 52 yards in two series commanding the Washington offense. The highlight of Cousins' performance was a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis.
As long as Cousins is turning in such performances, Washington can err on the side of caution with Griffin’s second ACL recovery.
As Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan noted in the post-game press conference, via ESPN: “He(Cousins) has a good feel for what we’re doing and he has a good command of the offense. He did an excellent job in the game going through his progressions.”
Furthermore, with Griffin firmly entrenched as the franchise quarterback, Cousins’ play has to be increasing his trade value.
At this rate, with both regular-season and postseason experience on his resume, Cousins’ trade value appears to be on a Matt Schaub-like trajectory.
With Washington trading away the farm in order to select Griffin, dealing Cousins would bolster Washington’s long-term outlook going forward.
The Return Of Brian Orakpo
After Orakpo missed nearly the entire 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle, seeing him in uniform had to be a welcome sight for the Washington faithful. It’s a sentiment opposing quarterbacks, like Jake Locker, may not share.
In his first game action since Week 2 of last season, Orakpo had a sack of the aforementioned Locker.
Coming off a season in which Washington only tallied 32 sacks, the Redskins will look to Orakpo to generate more of a pass rush as Washington ushers in a young secondary.
Questions At Safety
With starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather still recovering from injury, Washington had rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo starting at the safety spots. Rambo, the only projected starter of the two, turned in a forgettable debut.
Rambo was the last line of defense on both of Tennessee’s first-quarter touchdowns.
As this accompanying video shows, Rambo was on the wrong end of this Chris Johnson highlight.
Rambo took a poor angle and was completely spun around by a Johnson juke, culminating in a 58-yard touchdown run.
On Tennessee’s second first-quarter touchdown, courtesy of a poor angle, Rambo is beaten to the end zone by lumbering Titans running back Shonn Greene.
While Thomas’ errors were nowhere as egregious as Rambo’s, he didn’t capitalize on a prime opportunity to seize Meriweather’s job.
Part of the reason Rambo was left one-on-one against Johnson was because Thomas collapsed too far inside after the snap, leaving a gaping hole for Johnson to cut back into.
To make matters worse, Thomas exited the game with a foot injury shortly after.
With injury and performance questions surrounding Washington’s current safety stable, the Redskins may be best served by shopping the free-agent safety market for an upgrade.
Emergence Of Roy Helu
In light of a rookie season that saw Alfred Morris rack up 1,613 rushing yards, many may find Helu’s 13-carry, 57-yard performance against Tennessee as irrelevant. Especially since he contributed a grand total of two rushing yards to Washington’s league-leading total last season.
The fact is, though, that Washington needs Helu. With Griffin and his rushing attempts poised to take a dive this season after his second ACL tear, someone has to pick up the slack.
Who better than Helu?
Many forget that prior to Morris’ emergence, Helu was the perceived favorite to win the starting running back job. In 2011, Helu had 640 rushing yards to go along with 49 receptions and 379 receiving yards.
While Helu didn’t log any receptions in this contest, his quickness—that a turf toe injury sapped last season—was on full display.
With a clean bill of health and Morris not being an ideal receiving threat, it’s easy to imagine Helu reprising a role as Washington’s third-down back going forward.
The Return Of The “Real” Josh Morgan.
While Morgan did lead Washington in receptions last season with 48, as CBS.com’s David Elfin notes, Morgan wasn’t the same player he was with the San Francisco 49ers prior to fracturing his right ankle in 2011.
Morgan finished with 510 receiving yards and saw his yards per catch drop from 14.7 to 10.6, his second-lowest total of his five-year career.
Against the Titans, without the weight of his new contract—and the seven screws in his surgically repaired right leg—holding him down, Morgan resembled his old self. Noticeably more spry and explosive, Morgan had three catches for 39 yards in the preseason opener.
With No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon also looking healthy, Morgan’s re-emergence couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Skins.
Look for him to become a safety blanket for Washington’s quarterbacks going forward.