Washington Redskins: What to Watch for in Tonights Game Against the Steelers

Josh McCainSenior Writer IAugust 12, 2011

Washington Redskins: What to Watch for in Tonights Game Against the Steelers

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    Technically, football began last night with a handful of preseason games, but for me, and probably many of you, football doesn't officially begin until tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Fed Ex field to take on our beloved Washington Redskins.

    The first preseason game doesn't really tell us much about how good the team is. I mean, after all, we all remember the beat down Steve Spurrier and the Redskins put on the San Fransisco 49ers in Osaka, Japan.  We all thought Spurrier was going to revolutionize the NFL offense in a way Joe Gibbs had 20 years earlier.

    In spite of the insignificance of tonight's game, there are a few things to keep an eye on.  You'll have to watch closely, though, because most of the positions or players mentioned might only be on the field for a handful of snaps.

The Running Backs

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    Tonight, your primary ball carriers will be Roy Helu and Tim Hightower.  The incumbent starter, Ryan Torrain, will miss tonight's game due to a wrist injury.

    And honestly, I'm glad Torrain is out for this one because we know what he can do when healthy, so him missing the first preseason game doesn't bother me. 

    However, his string of injuries raise concern, which is why I'm going to keep a close eye on Hightower and Helu tonight because knowing Torrain's penchant for injuries, one of those two will be the starter at some point during the season.  And even if he does manage to stay health all season, Coach Shannahan likes to spell out backs quite a bit, so we'll see the other two frequently.

    What to look for with Hightower is to see how quickly he's absorbed Shannahan's running attack as well as his fumbling problem.  I won't be surprised if a good pop from the ferocious Steelers doesn't jar the ball loose at least once.

    From Helu, I want to see if his homerun threat capabilities from college transfer to the pro game.  Everything that's been said about him from camp has been positive, and the coaches firmly believe he'll break a couple of long touchdown runs this season.

    If he has one against the Steelers' starting 11, then he's on the right track.

Offensive Line

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    Instead of going out and getting a ton of free agent offensive linemen, the Redskins chose to stick with a lot of the guys already on the roster, hoping that another year together will create cohesion and therefore be more affective.

    The Steelers are a good test for them because we know they'll be blitzing and they will mix up their looks, so this will put the familiarity of the line at work.

    A lot of fans were up in arms that the team didn't go out and sign a ton of offensive linemen. 

    They did get a couple of guys, but overall, I'm completely fine with their approach of trying to build a line that stays together.  After all, that's what made the Hogs so great, the fact they played together for so long.

    We'll have to see if that approach will work in the first preseason game.

Defensive Line and Linebackers

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    When it comes to the defensive line, the Redskins did the exact opposite of the offensive line.

    They drafted Jarvis Jenkins and signed Stephen Bowen from Dallas and Barry Cofield from the Giants.

    Cofield, unlike Albert Haynesworth, doesn't mind doing whatever it takes to win, even if that means absorbing blocks to let the linebackers make the play.  However, he's not just good at absorbing blocks, but he can bust through double teams.

    Bowen is playing with a heavy heart because over the summer, his wife gave birth to premature twins, one of which their family sadly lost.  His wife and surviving son are still in a hospital in Dallas.  It will be interesting to see how well he plays.  If he's not at his best, I won't fault him.

    Jenkins I am expecting big things from.  During camp so far, he's been destroying people off the ball and has really been impressing, coaches, teammates, fans and the media.  I for one can't wait to see him at game speed.

    At linebacker, London Fletcher returns as the captain of the defense and is set to be solid as usual.

    With Brian Orakpo, I'm looking to see if he's picked up a second or third move on his pass rush.  The guy has everything you'd want to be a dominant pass rusher except for multiple moves.  Linemen around the league (especially in the Division) know what to look for when Orakpo rushes.  He says he has been working with defensive coordinator Jim Hasslett on his moves, so it will be interesting to see how they look.

    With Ryan Kerrigan, I'm just interested in to see how the move from defensive end to outside linebacker will work.  Like Orakpo, he's got a lot of great skill, and like Orakpo, he's moved from hand in the dirt to standing up.

    In spite of the short training camp, I'm expecting to see a better defensive front than last season.

John Beck, If He Plays

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    With his groin injury, it is highly unlikely that we'll see John Beck tonight, but if he does play, it will be interesting to see how well he plays.

    Now, unlike many of you out there, I have reserved judgement on Beck.

    I haven't bought into his radio tour hype like plenty of fans, and I'm not condemning the team if he eventually starts and the reason for both is the same.

    We haven't seen enough of Beck to make a fair judgment on how well he'll play in the NFL.

    So if he plays, he'll probably be the most scrutinized quarterback in the first week of preseason games.

Brandon Banks

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    Brandon Banks was a spark plug last season, no doubt.  However, he's a one trick pony.  All he can really do is return kicks and punts, and with the new kickoff rule moving the spot up to the 35, he'll have a lot fewer opportunities to return kickoffs.

    I honestly think for Banks to make the 53 man roster, he'll have to take a couple returns to the house. If he fails to have a big return in the preseason, he's as good as cut.

    One thing to watch is to see if he tries to bring a deep kickoff out of the endzone.  If he does this and gets it across the 30 or more, then Shannahan might see a reason to keep him on the roster. 

    But of all the wide receivers on the roster, Banks is going to have to outshine them all.

Field Goal Kickers

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    Graham Gano and Shayne Graham do not instill a lot of confidence in the fan base.  In fact, the winner of this competition will be more like picking the lesser of two evils as opposed to picking an actual winner.

    Gano has been better in practice, but he was great in practice last season.  This competition is going to come down to see who can make the difficult kicks in the game.

Fred Davis

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    With Chris Cooley out for tonight's game, all eyes are going to be on Fred Davis to see how well he does.

    However, what a lot of people probably won't look for is how well Davis blocks.  Davis doesn't block as well as Cooley.  Sure, he can make plays by catching the ball, but he isn't Shannon Sharp or Tony Gonzalez good to where you can excuse the lack of blocking.

    Look to see if Davis can seal the edge on running plays to his side while he's in blocking.

The Wide Receivers

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    The Redskins have a ton of wide receivers, and the only certainty when it comes to starters is that Santana Moss will be one of them.

    Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Leonard Hankerson and Anthony Armstrong are all competing to line up opposite of Moss.

    It will be interesting to see who the new additions in Gaffney, Hankerson and Stallworth all meld with Grossman.

The Uniforms

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    Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I was always partial to the white jerseys on burgundy pants look, but I was completely blown away with the burgundy jersey on yellow pants (they're yellow, not gold, folks).

    So I'm curious as if to the burgundy on yellow is now the official home look for the Skins or just a regular season alternate.

    If they show up with the yellow pants, then we'll have our answer.