On Saturday, Aug. 23, the Washington Redskins will travel to Charlotte, NC to take on the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium. It will be Washington's fourth preseason game and Carolina's third.
For the Redskins, like most other teams across the NFL, this preseason game is considered a "dress rehearsal" of sorts. The starters are expected to play most of the first half, with the coaches spending the week leading up to the game using a more "normal" routine.
What this means is that Redskins' Head Coach Jim Zorn will be showing us a small glimpse of his "real" offense. Zorn and his offensive staff have spent time this past week studying film on the Panthers and have formulated a game plan specific to the Panthers' defense.
This is the first time Zorn and his players have done this in Zorn's preseason debut as head coach and primary play-caller for the Redskins. For the players, they also were able to get the "feel" of how Zorn will handle such things during the course of a normal week during the regular season. Their excitement, as well the fans', is building.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache also had the opportunity to work his players through the week in the same manner, another first for Washington. Blache will be showing his players how he prepares a game plan and show the fans a bit more insight into his defensive philosophies.
On both sides of the ball, the starters will play most, if not all, of the first half against the Panthers. For starting quarterback Jason Campbell, an opportunity to erase an erratic performance last week against the New York Jets looms ahead of him.
Completing only 40 percent of his passes last week, Campbell showed us that he is not completely comfortable in the offense just yet. Coach Zorn has stressed this week that Campbell needs to trust his arm more and "just make the throw."
Showing some hesitance on several plays last week, Campbell passed on at least two potential touchdowns. He needs to speed up his decision making in the passing game. The Panthers' defense, meanwhile, intends to help him do just that.
The Panthers have been very aggressive throughout the preseason, blitzing often. This creates an ideal circumstance for Zorn and his new offense. The Redskins' divisional opponents—the Dallas Cowboys (one of the league-wide favorites for a trip to the Super Bowl), the Philadelphia Eagles (widely considered to be "reloaded" and ready to make a run to the top), and the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants—all employ pressure defenses.
This week against the Panthers will be another test to see how the Redskins' offense, Zorn, Campbell, and an aging offensive line can handle that pressure.
On the offensive line, 32-year old Jon Jansen, coming off a season-ending injury in Week One last year, needs to show marked improvement in his overall play. In the Redskins' first three preseason games (due to the Hall of Fame Game appearance, the Redskins, along with the Indianapolis Colts, will play five preseason games, all other NFL teams will play only four), Jansen's play could best be described as spotty.
While he has shown improvement in each game, he needs to show he still "has it" against the Panthers.
Another offensive lineman returning from injury, 32-year-old guard Randy Thomas suffered a minor knee-strain last week against the Jets and is in dire need of a strong, injury-free performance this week.
Star running back Clinton Portis will be making only his second appearance in the preseason. While Portis is no fan of the preseason, he has said this week that he is excited to get on the field and be able to get into a rhythm with his offensive teammates.
What rotation, if any, at running back will be interesting to see as well. With Ladell Betts waiting in the wings and having a very strong preseason, will Zorn show us how he intends to rotate the two standout backs? And will it include preseason star Marcus Mason?
The Redskins' wide-receiving corps may have the added service of rookie second-round draft pick Malcolm Kelly for the first time in the preseason as well. Kelly has been battling back from arthroscopic knee surgery (Kelly was originally sidelined by a pulled hamstring) all preseason and missed each game thus far.
Zorn said on Thursday that Kelly didn't look "full speed" to him in Thursday's practice, making it unlikely that Kelly will see any time on the field, but is listed a game-time decision.
Fellow second-round draft pick (the Redskins' first overall selection) Devin Thomas will be seeing action in his second game in the preseason. Thomas didn't log any catches last week, playing on three special-teams units and seeing significant time with the offense throughout the game, and hopes to change that this week against the Panthers.
On defense, Blache will have the closest thing to a "full strength" defensive unit he has seen yet. With the exception of standout safety LaRon Landry (still nursing a pulled hamstring that has held him out of most of training camp and each game so far), all the starters will be on hand this week.
That is significant.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers and linebacker Rocky McIntosh, both returning from devastating knee-injuries last season, will see their fist extensive game action.
Blache will be unveiling more of his rotation along the defensive line this week as well, giving us a long look at newly-acquired defensive end Jason Taylor. Taylor is expected to help bolster the Redskins' pass rush this season, a sore point for the franchise for several years.
Blache is not known for a tendency to blitz often, and with defensive end Andre Carter (10.5 sacks last season) working opposite Taylor, he hopes to be able to keep it that way.
The tackle rotation is also something to watch closely this week. Youngsters Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery are battling for the starting spot alongside veteran Cornelius Griffin and have been pushing each other to elevate their play.
Will veteran cornerback Shawn Springs start at free safety in Landry's place? He has already seen time at free safety this preseason, with third-year player Leigh Torrence starting at corner opposite veteran Fred Smoot, making this is another intriguing story line.
Last week, rookie Kareem Moore got the nod with the first-team defense, will he get another opportunity this week or will one of the other youngsters get their shot? At cornerback, we may also get some hints as to how Blache feels about his backups: Which player comes in to be the fourth corner if a dime package is used?
Rookies Justin Tryon and Matteral Richardson seem to have leg up here, but nothing has been decided.
The punting battle also heats up this week. Veteran Derrick Frost and rookie Durant Brooks have been in a competition for the punting duties since training camp began in July. Neither punter has distanced himself from the other, both having solid outings each week. One of these men needs to step up and take the job.
We may also get an idea of how the coaching staff is leaning in regards to several roster battles taking place this week. With the first round of roster cuts pending (all NFL teams must trim their rosters to 75 players on Tuesday, Aug. 26, teams are allowed a maximum of 80 players at this point) several players will have their last opportunity to showcase their talents.
For the Redskins, this could mean narrowing the search for backups at wide receiver, along the offensive line, at cornerback, safety, and the defensive line.
With five players to be cut, Zorn and his staff could use this as an opportunity to send a message to several players: It's time to "put up or shut up."
The wide-receiving corps could be trimmed to make way for increased practice time to the expected winners of the battles at backups. Wide receiver Anthony Mix is expected to play this week, though he may be slowed by cracked ribs, and he is involved in a very tight battle with Billy McMullen to convince the coaching staff to carry a sixth wideout on the active roster (many teams carry five, while six is not out of the ordinary).
Running back Marcus Mason continues his quest to show the coaches that he is worthy of an opening-day roster spot.
On defense, it is likely the defensive backfield to be trimmed first. The Redskins are facing difficult decisions here as well. With an extreme lack of experience at safety, there are several players "on the bubble" and will need to standout this week in order to keep their dreams of making the opening-day roster alive.
Special teams are always a key in the preseason. But for many of the Redskins' hopefuls, special-teams play will be particularly important. While a player may play well when at his "regular" position, the numbers crunch all NFL teams will face forces them to make decisions that are "roster efficient."
This means that versatility is critical for backup players at every position; that means playing well on special teams.
So "game on" 'Skins fans, the regular season is just around the corner!