The Washington Redskins face off against the Buffalo Bills at 7:30 PM Friday at FedEx Field. Don't get your jock in a knot, people. It's just a preseason game. The best part of this game is that we get to see the team colors in action. Better than baseball, but that's about it.
For players on the edge or with something to prove, it's when you make your case. For coaches, it's time to evaluate players who are on the edge or with something to prove. Preseason games are like eavesdropping on employee performance reviews.
For coaches, the preseason is not so much about the contest than it is about cutting up lots of game film to see individual players in their personal match-ups against the man opposite them. Joe Gibbs revealed that the coaches deliberately isolated players just to see how they stood up to pressure at game speed. He didn't scheme to exploit the other team's weaknesses or to build on Redskins strengths. He just wanted to see how the guys played.
They used to call these exhibition games, with the emphasis on exhibition. If Roger Goodell has his way, two of these exhibitions convert to "regular." I hope so. Danny Snyder charges $40 just to park. Exhibition games are the worst value in sports.
If you can't get tickets for the regular games, preseason can be a great one-time treat for a game experience. You just have to know what to watch for. Keep your eye on these five:
1. Trent Williams. Does this kid really have the stuff to replace Chris Samuels? That's not fair. Samuels is irreplaceable. Williams follows him at left tackle. Samuels elevated the play of the entire offensive line. That's too much to ask of a rookie. That's Derrick Dockery's and Casey Rabach's job now.
Right tackle Jammal Brown will miss the game due to injury. Web site Profootballfocus.com says Brown is overrated as a tackle--says it right there in the article that ranked the Skins O-line 29th in the NFL. (The good news: they say the Bills are worse.) I hope the Shanahans know more about the offensive lines than some web site.
The Bills released (Did Not Report) OLB Aaron Schobel Sunday in a contract dispute. So Williams must deal with Reggie Tobor and Aaron Mabin at linebaker and Dwan Edwards at defensive end. Like Washington, Buffalo is converting from the 4-3 to the 3-4. Those guys will be a little lost in the scheme, which works to Williams' advantage.
Williams has to get acclimated and quickly, so I hope the Redskins play him for at least a half. Williams wears jersey No. 72. Um, that's Dexter Manley's number, kid. Don't dishonor it.
2. Can the Redskins cover? The question applies to linebackers as well as the secondary. Since we are moving to the 3-4 alignment, it applies more to the linebackers. 'cause it's a long, long season if they can't.
One of the justifications for the 3-4 is the potential to bring pressure from anywhere. That's no big deal for the Redskins. Gregg Williams did that with the 4-3. This move is about forcing turnovers. For that to work, the outside linebackers have to cover--well.
Now aren't you glad that Greg Blache made Brian Orakpo play linebacker last year?
The Bills are the perfect first outing for the Redskins in this scheme because...well, they aren't a very good passing team. Lee Evans is a top tier receiver. There's no question about him starting, so you won't see much of him this Friday. T.O is off the roster. If the linebackers and defensive backs can't cover these guys....
3. Tick, Tick, Tick. There are 40 seconds between plays in pro football. Can a veteran Redskins team break huddle with 15 seconds left on the countdown clock? Hey, don't leave the page now. This is an important point about coaching.
I've observed that better organized teams break huddle with 15 seconds left on the countdown clock. Time enough to look over the defense, realign blocking schemes, audible to a new play, adjust. Too often under Jim Zorn and Joe Gibbs, the Skins were slow getting the play from the coaches booth to the sideline to the quarterback. Washington flirted with delay of game penalties too many times for comfort.
Breaking huddle with 10 to 15 seconds to go says the coaches are prepared for contingencies and are decisive. I'm looking for a better showing from the Shanahans.
Win or lose, crisp play in preseason means crisp play when games are real. Same goes for sloppy play. Exhibition games are no excuse for sloppy play.
4. How bad is Rex Grossman? When we last paid attention to Grossman, he was flaming out in Chicago, so much so that Bears fans were calling him "Wrecks." He's here for the same reason Todd Collins was here (and is now gone), familiarity with the new offense. Collins did well when pressed into action in 2007, not because he was better than Jason Campbell or Mark Brunell. He just knew the playbook better. Grossman knows Kyle Shanahan's playbook. It should show when he plays.
Donovan McNabb will play about 15-18 snaps, then it's Grossman and John Beck from then on. McNabb could miss two games this season, so I need Rex to make me comfortable now.
5. Can somebody please get open? Anybody? Please? Calling Devin Thomas. Calling Devin Thomas. From Spartan alum to Spartan player: step it up, kid. You are making Michigan State look bad. Does Joey Galloway really have more in the tank than you?
Thomas and Malcolm Kelly were two of the first three players the Skins drafted in 2008. They feel like first rounders to us. But they are not. They are second rounders...who are under-performing even that level (see Jackson, DeSean). Can the receiving corps get open against the Bills secondary? Anybody? Please?
Preseason games are when the team shows its fans whether they can finish the year over or under eight games. Give us a reason, Redskins, give us any small amount of hope to take the over.
Play. Score. Win.
Point-After: This post is a Haynesworth-free Zone.