INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 19: Tim Hightower #39 of the Washington Redskins runs with the ball during the game against Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 19, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Week 3 of preseason football often features the exhibition game that most closely resembles a regular season tilt. For the Redskins this year, it’s more than a dress rehearsal against a rough-and-tumble Ravens squad. It’s a game that contains answers to several pressing questions in need of answering before Washington’s season opener against the Giants.
Ideally the Redskins will have a starting quarterback upon exiting Thursday’s game, but with both John Beck and Rex Grossman seemingly neck-and-neck after two weeks of preseason play, Mike Shanahan’s decision might come right down to the wire.
Yet that’s something coaches aren’t likely to want. The sooner the starter is named, the sooner the focus can shift toward preparing that player for the Giants. So the stakes will be high for both Beck and Grossman in Baltimore.
And what better place to see what they’re made of? The Ravens defense is surrendering just 13 points per game and has seven sacks in two games. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has kept the Ravens on all-out attack mode in the preseason, unafraid to tip his hand for what’s in store once the real games get under way.
For Beck or Grossman, it’s the perfect opportunity to lock down the starting job. If either one can assert himself against a Baltimore defense with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and a host of other elite players, Shanahan will have his guy for at least Week 1.
With a competition this close, the margin for error once the regular season starts will be slim. Shanahan has told reporters he has confidence in both players, and if one can’t get it done, then the other will get his opportunity. However at the moment, Thursday’s game is for all the marbles at quarterback.
In addition to the quarterbacks, the battle at receiver is beginning to heat up. Terrence Austin continued his push for a spot with another strong game in Indianapolis while Brandon Banks sat out with an injury. Other guys on the bubble include Donte Stallworth and Niles Paul, meaning the coaching staff has some tough choices to make when picking the final roster.
Regardless of the outcome, there’s no question this group is vastly improved over last year. The Redskins may keep six receivers and still have to risk sending a promising rookie in Paul to the practice squad. Ultimately, Banks probably has a spot on the roster so long as he’s deemed healthy, meaning Austin or Stallworth could be left out despite their production throughout the summer.
While the central focus is on quarterback and receiver, several other positions are up for grabs as well. Rookie corner Brandyn Thompson is coming off a nice week in Indianapolis where he had an interception and looked capable in coverage. The Redskins already have five CBs who should make the roster, but with Phillip Buchanon set to miss the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension, Thompson may not start the season on the practice squad as many expected he would. He’ll need another head-turning performance tonight if that’s going to happen.
The same can be said for Evan Royster, who is buried behind three other running backs. The rookie from Penn State was quietly efficient during a Week 1 win over Pittsburgh, but was upstaged by fellow rookie Roy Helu against the Colts.
There’s little chance Royster will be on the 53-man roster to start the season, but with Ryan Torain’s injury woes, it’s not far-fetched to think Royster could get a call up from the practice squad. That being said, a good game from him on Thursday will go a long way toward gaining the coaching staff’s trust.
Thursday night’s performance isn’t indicative of how the Redskins season will turn out, but it will prove instrumental in what the makeup of this team could be in 2011. The organization already has a good idea of the moves they’ll make in the coming weeks, but for the players, it’s one last chance to state their case for a starting job or a roster spot.
For Redskins fans, it’s a time to see what their team is really made of.