The Washington Redskins went to work in their preseason opener against the New England Patriots Thursday night without DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Ryan Clark and Tracy Porter. Four key cogs, three of them new.
That didn't slow them down.
In a methodical 23-6 victory over the Pats, the Redskins—who for the entirety of the Mike Shanahan era dealt with questions regarding their depth on both sides of the ball—revealed to the football world just how far they've come in terms of filling out the roster in recent offseasons.
Some of the credit goes to Coach Shanahan, some goes to president and general manager Bruce Allen and some certainly goes to new head coach Jay Gruden, who made his debut Thursday at FedEx Field.
Understandably, Robert Griffin III only threw four passes in a single drive. It was Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy who made everyone feel just a little bit better about the team's quarterback insurance by completing 17 of 22 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Top back Alfred Morris averaged 5.4 yards per carry on his lone series. Then it was Roy Helu reminding us that this isn't a one-man backfield, with 37 yards on seven touches. Later, speedy sixth-round rookie Lache Seastrunk destroyed New England's third- and fourth-teamers with 63 yards on only 12 carries.
Again, no Garcon or Jackson. In this case, no problem. Aldrick Robinson stepped into the starting lineup and came inches away from having a two-touchdown game, while rookie fifth-round selection Ryan Grant contributed with three catches—one of them a beauty along the sideline—for 37 yards.
This is a team that already knew what it had in Jackson, Garcon, Santana Moss and Andre Roberts, but injuries happen. And now, the Redskins know they can rely on Robinson and Grant, both of whom have a great chance at making the final 53.
The offensive line that was maligned throughout the 2013 season gave up some pressure, but the second- and third-stringers paved the way for Seastrunk, and the 'Skins didn't give up a sack until the fourth quarter. As a result, they punted just once.
This is also a defense that is wondering how it'll replace the retired London Fletcher. But that wasn't a concern Thursday, as youngsters Keenan Robinson and Will Compton both shined against the run inside. Both flashed good instincts, blowing up rushes from Shane Vereen and James White.
Compton made a big play in coverage on a 3rd-and-4, while Robinson was all over the field, both against the run and in coverage. Fellow reserves Rob Jackson and Akeem Jordan also made flashy stops in run defense.
The secondary remains a big concern for Redskins fans, but again, there were some encouraging moments Thursday that would lead you to believe this team is quietly deep.
Young cornerback Chase Minnifield had a key pass breakup in the end zone to atone for a pass-interference penalty. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland was solid in coverage and a borderline stud in run defense; he's as physical as anyone in that secondary. Trenton Robinson, Akeem Davis and Richard Crawford also performed well.
I know, we're talking about one exhibition game. And the Patriots didn't even play their All-World quarterback, along with 10 other presumed starters. New England struggled on both sides of the ball, but good tackling is good tackling, good coverage is good coverage and good blocking is good blocking.
We saw that from start to finish in this game, which at least means the 'Skins are off to a promising start from top to bottom.
Nobody questions this team's talent at the top end. Griffin, Jackson, Garcon, Morris, Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Jason Hatcher, Barry Cofield and DeAngelo Hall are proven gamers. But this team has been sunk in recent years by the rest of the roster—that 80 percent that wasn't mentioned in the previous sentence.
And when your roster is shallow, you feel it when guys go down. In fact, last year Football Outsiders concluded the 'Skins had the second-worst special teams unit dating all the way back to 1989.
That trickle-down effect should help them improve in that area in 2014.
A lot could change between now and the Sept. 7 opener, and even more could change between then and Week 17, but the Redskins couldn't have asked for a better start when it comes to the second, third and fourth layer of their roster.