It’s doesn’t carry the weight of a regular season game and it’s not even on the same level as the dress rehearsal in Week 3 of preseason action, but Friday night marks the first time the Redskins will suit up for a football game since early January.
The matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t likely to draw a capacity crowd, and by halftime most of the starters will be done for the night. Preseason football doesn’t make for must-see TV, yet for the careful observer it can be a tell-all on how the final 53-man roster will look heading into September.
“I’m excited because I think we got a lot better competition [this year],” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “Last year we still had to figure out our team, but the depth wasn’t there. I think we’ve got better depth this year and there’s going to be some competition in there from the first quarter all the way to the fourth so it will be exciting to watch some of these guys battle it out.”
Questions abound with 12 draft picks and a plethora of free agent acquisitions fighting to make an impression. Can 60 minutes of football do anything to break up the logjam at wide receiver and running back? Which rookies are ready to contribute on Sundays? Who will draw first blood in the strangest quarterback competition the Redskins have had in years?
After the lockout, Washington doesn’t have much time to get up to speed, making each game a bit more important. And for players trying to break the monotony of training camp, preseason is a welcome respite.
“I feel like just going out there and facing a different opponent -- someone other than ourselves -- everybody will get up for it,” said receiver Santana Moss.
For coaches, they will worry about their players’ performance over a gameplan, the score or the opponent. They may pay lip service to the importance of winning every football game, but in reality, preseason is a time to assess the talent on the roster.
“We’ll get a chance to evaluate players as well as get a little feel of our scheme,” said coach Mike Shanahan. “We got a lot of work to do in four games.”
Despite the lockout putting offseason activities on hold, the Redskins have already adopted a more businesslike approach than in years past. Given the large amount of roster turnover, that mentality is a perfect one to have.
“I have high expectations and I think everyone on our team does, but I do understand that some of these guys are a little bit more rusty than you would expect and that comes when they don’t have the reps,” Kyle Shanahan said. “But it’ll be a new experience for all of us and hopefully it goes well.”
Week 1 will simply scratch the surface on what is a key year for Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff. They are beginning to implement a foundation and an identity. The next month will determine just how deeply that foundation will take root in 2011.
“I think there’s always a positive atmosphere when you start [playing], but I think more than ever right now,” Chris Cooley said. “We’re on the same page. You got a lot of guys that really care about being part of this team.”
With an endless stream of theatrics distracting from the bigger picture in 2010, Cooley’s words suggest that the Redskins focus is finally 100 percent on football.
And on the eve of a fresh start that’s right where it belongs.
Watch the Redskins take on the Steelers Friday night on NBC4. Coverage starts at 7:30 p.m., with the Redskins Postgame Report immediately afterward.