For teams across the NFL, injuries, poor performances, outstanding performances, and even player conditioning begin dictating a team’s actions throughout the preseason and, therefore, the regular season.
For the Baltimore Ravens, injuries to their starting offensive tackles have meant an extreme shuffle along the offensive line.
Signing a free agent, who was pouring concrete just two weeks ago, and immediately inserting him as the team's starting left tackle speaks to the effects injuries and an overly-small 80-man roster limit will have a team's ability to sign and keep worthwhile players on the roster.
No offense to Chad Slaughter, but there was a reason he’s been out of football for a year.
For the Redskins, it’s no different, and it was no surprise that the Redskins made adjustments to their roster following last week’s Hall of Fame Game, the Redskins' preseason opener.
A lackluster performance from free-agent signee Stuart Schweigert cost him an opportunity to even make the team, as he was cut on Monday. Injuries to both backup offensive tackles, second-year player Stephon Heyer and veteran Todd Wade, opened up additional playing time for young linemen to get noticed and, hopefully, earn a roster spot.
Last week, we took a close look at the Redskins' roster battles taking place, and what players we should watch. This week, the Redskins play their first home game of the 2008 season against the Buffalo Bills. Has anything changes from last week? It sure has.
For one thing, we know just a little bit more about several of the Redskins' draft picks. Each one who was able to play, receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly couldn’t play due to injuries, put together solid performances, quarterback Colt Brennan and safety Chris Horton in particular. Horton, in fact likely played just as large a role in Schweigert’s release as he did in the game.
Horton made sure everyone knew who he was on the game’s opening kickoff by recovering an onside-kick attempt by the Colts and made sure no one had the chance to forget his name by making plays and being around the ball the entire game.
Brennan accomplished much the same thing, throwing two late touchdowns to give the 'Skins a come-from-behind win and bringing some electricity to the offense.
So whom should we watch this week?
To me, the most notable spots to watch will the offensive line. With the injuries to Heyer and Wade, the youngsters vying to backup roles will see plenty of playing time.
Rookie Chad Rinehart has already showed his versatility and has been singled out for praise by coaches. He will look to continue proving himself. Rinehart is listed as a backup guard but will see action at tackle as well.
Others to watch on the line are undrafted rookie free agent Andrew Crummey at center, Justin Geisinger and Tavares Washington at tackle and possibly at guard, and guard Fred Matua (Matua has already been cut and re-signed, so he is looking to prove he belongs in the NFL).
Rookie free safety Kareem Moore should see his first game action as a Redskin and will need to show that he has not fallen too far behind while recovering from knee surgery. Horton will play some, but may be limited due to a stomach virus that kept him out of practice on Thursday.
Also look for the Redskins to take a long look at the cornerback position this week. Rookies Justin Tryon and Matteral Richardson are working to earn backup positions with the team, and both had notable performances last week.
The linebacker position was also shaken up a bit following last week's game. Fourth-year player Alfred Fincher was signed two days prior to the game against the Colts and, remarkably, received significant playing time. Enough time that another roster move was made on Monday, when linebacker Danny Verdun-Wheeler was release.
Fincher should see the field even more this week, along with second linebacker Matt Sinclair. Sinclair earned high praise from defensive coordinator Greg Blache and could push second-year linebacker H.B. Blades for the primary backup spot at middle linebacker. Blades has been sidelined due to arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
Seventh-round draft pick Rob Jackson, a defensive end, also made plays in extensive action last week. He will try to build on that performance this week. Watch Jackson against the run in particular.
On offense, rookie tight end Fred Davis showed why the Redskins had him slated as the No. 1 tight end in the 2008 draft. Showing athleticism and solid “run after the catch” ability, Davis stands to continue “re-proving” himself through the preseason. Davis hurt his status with the club by being late to practice during OTAs this spring.
At wide receiver, rookie Devin Thomas may see the field this week. Head coach Jim Zorn has yet to be definitive concerning his exact plans for Thomas, with the team being cautious while Thomas returns from a pulled hamstring.
The lesser known young receivers will see plenty of playing time again this week. That increased playing time could translate into a roster spot for any one of them. Billy McMullen and Maurice Mann look to separate themselves even further from the rest of the group, possibly pushing Anthony Mix out of the picture.
Zorn has spoken so highly of veteran James Thrash, it would be a shock if he does not make the final roster, leaving only one, and the possibility of a sixth, spot left at wide out.
These youngsters will need to convince the coaching staff that carrying a sixth receiver is worth sacrificing depth at another position. Special-teams play will go a long way in accomplishing that goal, so watch each player’s performance on special teams.
Running back Marcus Mason is also making name for himself and looks to convince the staff that a fourth-running back on the roster is the way to go. He has run the ball very well, but, just as with the wide receivers, special teams will be the place for him to make his mark.
All this is well and good, but is there anything to get EXCITED ABOUT THIS WEEK?
Sure there is.
Defensive end Jason Taylor should make his Redskin debut against the Bills, at home no less! It should be fun just to see him on the field in a Redskins uniform, though his reps will likely be limited.
Star running back Clinton Portis is also slated see some action this week. I would guess this is a special request from Zorn. Portis doesn’t want to play in the preseason, but he will when Zorn wants him to.
Zorn has also stated that he may change the quarterback rotation this week. Jason Campbell will start, but the second quarterback to come in could be different this week. Zorn would like to see Brennan in a few specific situations, and will decide which quarterback plays when accordingly.
As we all know, preseason games mean very little when evaluating a team’s future play, but there are opportunities to garner some hints as to the team’s style, discipline, and the coaches’ style and personality. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache called a very conservative game last week, employing a lot of zone coverage and blitzing little.
It will be interesting to see if he changes that this week. Redskins fans have grown to hate zone coverage, as the fact that complaints/concerns over this approach was one of the most “blogged” about issues following last weeks game would suggest.
One of the more intriguing things about the preseason, for me, is watching Zorn and how he handles his players on the sideline, his play calling, and his general demeanor during the game. This week will be no different.
Game on Redskins fans!