With the NFL preseason reaching it's mid-point, teams and players are being scrutinized more intensely than ever.
On Saturday, the Washington Redskins defeated the New York Jets, 13-10, in the Redskins third preseason game, only the second for the Jets. There has been much made of what was statistically a poor performance from Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell and a spotty, at best, performance of the Redskins defense as a whole.
Campbell completed only four passes in 10 attempts for 28 yards. But what may not be so obvious are the good decisions he made that led to those numbers. During the game and during a more detailed viewing later, it was apparent that Campbell was hesitant to make throws that he initially "read" as the "correct" throw to make. What was not so apparent was why.
According to Redskins head coach Jim Zorn (also the team's play caller and architect of this version of the "West Coast Offense"), unfamiliarity played a large role in that hesitation. Zorn stated that on at least two of those plays, Campbell had "only one rep" in practice before the game.
Let's consider this a moment. Surely Campbell has been studying his playbook diligently, but without seeing the routes run first hand, without seeing the possible defensive schemes used against a particular offensive alignment, could he have handled these plays better?
In each case, he "made the correct read, but hesitated, he reloaded, and went somewhere else" with the ball, according to Zorn. And in each case, the ball fell incomplete.
Coach Zorn pointed out to all of us that Campbell needs to "trust" his decisions and his arm.
"He has a big arm" and can make these throws, the defensive back can be that close and still complete the pass. He was very judicious with the ball, not risking an interception, a trait Zorn also wants from his quarterbacks.
Campbell chose what he felt was a "safer" attempt. Zorn wants him to take more chances, trust his arm, and MAKE THE THROW. Another learning experience for Campbell.
We also learned against the Jets that the Redskins should be able to run the ball against ANY defense in the league. Not because the Jets are so good defensively and the Redskins had success, but because the Redskins have been able to run virtually at will in all three games thus far in the preseason.
Depth at running back will not be a concern for the Redskins either, as Marcus Mason has seemingly guaranteed himself a roster spot, and Rock Cartwright and Ladell Betts have shown their high comfort level with the offense. And tackle Jon Jansen is getting better each game, making the offensive line even better.
Rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas also offered us a lesson. The lesson? While he is not "ready" for the regular season, he does have heart. Thomas was obviously tired in the first quarter, but continued to push through the game. Zorn also showed us that he will challenge his players to play, no matter their "status". Thomas was used on three different special teams units as well playing a large amount of the game at wide out.
Another lesson learned is that defensive coordinator Greg Blache isn't done "experimenting" with his defense. Showing numerous looks and calling a number of blitzes, Blache likely needed a nose plug while reviewing the game film.
According to Blache, the Redskins defense played like "three day old dead fish" in the Hall of Fame Game and I imagine several days have been added to that analogy with the defense's performance against the Jets.
While the Jets were unable to score many points, they had multiple opportunities to move the ball, only their own ineptitude stopping several drives, with the receivers dropping at least four passes. Blache has a ways to go to finalize his defensive schemes for the regular season.
Blache had corner back Carlos Rogers and line backer Rocky McIntosh on the field for the first time this season as well. While they saw very limited action, it was a good sign that each will be able to start the season.
While their presence did not have a positive impact on the defense (not to say their impact was negative), they did show some explosiveness, and no hesitation on the field, an indication that their health will not be a concern.
Another good lesson for Redskins fans is that the Redskins may well have had their best draft in many years this past April. Virtually every draft pick has shown he will likely be capable of playing in the NFL. They may not all make this year's squad, but they will likely be on an active roster soon.
Kareem Moore and Chris Horton have gone a long way towards earning roster spots with the Redskins this season as backup safeties.
Justin Tryon is exactly what the Redskins expected, a physical, fearless player who won't shy away from anything coming at him, including a 250 pound full back.
On one play against the Jets, Tryon, listed as five feet, nine inches tall and 183 pounds (soaking wet with full football gear I'm sure), took on Jets full back Tony Richardson. And he didn't just sacrifice his body to remove Richardson from the play, but took him on and put himself in position to make a tackle.
Rookie defensive end, Rob Jackson, largely considered a long shot to even be drafted, has progressed well through training camp, adding weight and getting stronger. Jackson is likely on his way to the practice squad (a numbers crunch along the defensive line is coming for the Redskins), but will likely compete next year for a spot on the active roster.
A "bumper crop" of young offensive linemen has also been on display this preseason, a key to the Redskins future success.
Undrafted rookies Matteral Richardson (corner back) and Andrew Crummey (offensive lineman), second year player Tavares Washington (offensive linemen), third round pick Chad Rinehart, and free agent signee Alfred Fincher, all played well yet again, making it very difficult for the Redskins to keep them off the active roster.
But for this writer, one of the most exciting lessons learned from this game is that the Redskins front office(Vice President Of Football Operations, Vinny Cerrato and Head Coach Jim Zorn in particular) may well have positioned this team for a solid run into the future.
With so many young players pushing for roster spots, and making a strong case for themselves, the impending roster turnover may be much more painless than it might have been otherwise. The Redskins have a number of aging players on it's roster. Largely considered one of the "older" teams in the NFL, the Redskins actually have an intriguing mix of youth and experience across the board. This provides the perfect growing/learning environment for young players.
And with Zorn bringing such a fresh perspective into the organization, owner Daniel Snyder seemingly allowing Cerrato to work closely with Zorn in building this franchise, we may also have learned that the Redskins are on track for solid growth into the future.
And maybe, just maybe, more championships to come.