There was a plethora of optimism entering last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers, but that optimism turned into outright dread in just over seven minutes of football. Head Coach Jim Zorn found himself facing the team’s first loss and his most significant test yet.
With final roster cuts looming (the Redskins made initial cuts early, releasing veteran safety Vernon Fox, defensive end Dorian Smith, and defensive tackle Babatunde Oshinowo on Sunday, and linebacker Matt Sinclair and wide receiver Burl Toler on Monday), the Redskins look to answer some questions this week.
This week’s game will not offer much time for Zorn to correct his team’s offensive woes, but he will have time to complete player evaluations and finalize his roster. There are several key roster decisions to be made.
There are only two starting positions open: punter and defensive tackle, alongside Cornelius Griffin. If last week is any indication, these two decisions will be difficult, but the punting competition seems more critical because one of the two players (veteran Derrick Frost and rookie Durant Brookes) vying for the job WILL be cut, while the loser in the tackle competition (Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery) will remain with the team.
The Redskins are in the midst of a youth movement; one being pushed along by several very hungry rookies and a couple of third and fourth-year players.
The list of players fighting for roster spots and backup positions is a long one. At cornerback, it is still unknown how many defensive backs the Redskins will carry on the active roster, making the backup positions particularly interesting; each of these men could also land on the practice squad.
Fourth-year corner Leigh Torrence played last season and is likely the fourth man off the bench. Rookies Justin Tryon and Matteral Richardson have shown promise, but they also have shown that they have a long way to go to. Second-year player Byron Westbrook has progressed well, but is it enough to make the active roster?
o Fourth-year player Leigh Torrence
o Rookie Justin Tryon
o Rookie Matteral Richardson
o Second-year player Byron Westbrook
o Second-year player Cedric Holt
At linebacker, the Redskins are being challenged to find quality depth, aside from known quantities H.B. Blades and veteran Khary Campbell, there is little to be excited about. Fourth-year player Alfred Fincher has shown a nose for the ball and has likely earned a spot.
But with the injury to second-year player Matt Sinclair (who was released on Monday, after having a solid camp and preseason) there isn’t much intrigue left.
o Sixth-year player Khary Campbell
o Second-year player H.B. Blades
o Fourth-year player Alfred Fincher
o Rookie Curtis Gatewood
o Second-year player Danny Verdun-Wheeler
o Second-year player David Halloway
At safety, the Redskins are seeing their efforts leading up to the 2008 draft come to fruition. With the leading candidates all being late-round draft picks, the youth movement is strong.
o Rookie Kareem Moore
o Rookie Chris Horton
o Second-year player Justin Hamilton
o Second-year player Patrick Ghee
On the defensive line, the Redskins must make the difficult decision of how many they will keep on the roster. With more apparent quality at defensive end than tackle, the run defense could be challenged this season, as we saw last week against the Panthers.
o Third-year tackle Lorenzo Alexander
o Second-year tackle Ryan Boschetti
o Third-year tackle Mathias Askew
o Veteran end/tackle Demetric Evans
o Second-year end Chris Wilson
o Fourth-year end Erasmus James
o Rookie end Rob Jackson
The offensive line is also seeing an attempt by several young players to make decisions very difficult for the Redskins. This week, Zorn said the team will be keeping “nine, at minimum,” offensive linemen.
Veteran Jason Fabini seems to have completed his transition from tackle to guard well, second-year player Stephon Heyer and rookie Chad Rinehart seem to be locks for backup spots. For veteran tackle Todd Wade, his injury early in preseason may have cost him a roster spot, and there could be only one position left.
o Veteran Jason Fabini
o Veteran tackle Todd Wade
o Second-year tackle Stephon Heyer
o Rookie guard/tackle Chad Rinehart
o Rookie guard/tackle Andrew Crummey
o Third-year player (center/guard) Justin Geisinger
o Second-year player (guard/tackle) Tavares Washington
o Third-year player (guard) Fred Matua
o Rookie (guard) Devin Clark
At wide receiver, the Redskins are also being challenged with how many wideouts to keep on the active roster. High expectations likely guarantee rookies Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly spots on the team, and long-time veteran and special-teams standout James Thrash has proven, once again, that his value is immeasurable, leaving only the possibility that one more wideout will be kept:
o Veteran James Thrash
o Rookie Devin Thomas
o Rookie Malcolm Kelly
o Second-year player Anthony Mix
o Third-year player Billy McMullen
o Rookie Horace Gant
o Second-year player Maurice Mann
At tight end, there isn’t much intrigue. Veteran Todd Yoder is likely the primary backup, and rookie Fred Davis has worked very hard through camp and preseason. The Redskins are likely to keep three, and they are probably set (rookie Jason Goode was waived on Tuesday).
o Veteran Todd Yoder
o Rookie Fred Davis
The Redskins have a difficult decision to make at running back as well. Second-year player Marcus Mason has shown he belongs in the NFL, but is there room with the Redskins for him? With the backups largely set, the only question seems to be whether the team keeps him or a backup at fullback:
o Veteran Ladell Betts
o Veteran Rock Cartwright
o Second-year player Marcus Mason
o Fourth-year fullback Nehamiah Broughton
At quarterback, there aren’t any question marks. Second-year player Derek Devine gets an opportunity this week to get some game film to submit to other teams around the league:
o Veteran Todd Collins
o Rookie Colt Brennan
o Second-year player Derek Devine
Note that I did not list veteran cornerback Fred Smoot in backup competition at corner. I don’t consider the third corner a backup. The “nickel” defensive package is almost as common on most teams as a “base” defense, and the “third” corner is as critical as the two ahead of him on the depth chart. Barring injury, Smoot isn’t going anywhere.
I also didn’t mention place kicker (fourth-year kicker Shaun Suisham) or long snapper (veteran Ethan Albright), as there is no competition at either position.
The offensive starters are going to play a series this week, according to Zorn. They will try to “right” the ship, “regroup,” get their heads out of their a*&%^, and however else one wants to describe recovery form last week’s terrible performance.
With only eight more days until the season opener against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants, finalizing the roster is the key this week, and Zorn knows it. The decisions made following tomorrow’s game will go a long way in determining the Redskins' upcoming season, and Zorn’s future as the team’s head coach.
Jim Zorn seems to have passed all of his early tests as head coach. Can he pass this one?
Time will tell.