Week four of preseason action isn’t often memorable. With the regular season just days away, most teams don’t have much at stake and will hardly prepare for the most meaningless 60 minutes of football the country will witness all season.
Try telling that to the Washington Redskins when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday.
“This game is a big game for a lot of players,” said Mike Shanahan. “We’re approaching this like the third preseason game with our practices -- like we’re getting ready for a regular season game.”
The stakes couldn’t be much higher for John Beck and Rex Grossman, who each have one last opportunity to win the starting quarterback job for Sept. 11’s season opener against the New York Giants. Shanahan hasn’t ruled either out and told reporters the evaluation process won’t be over until perhaps hours before the season begins.
That’s a far cry from last year’s week four when Donovan McNabb was on the bench in Arizona, awaiting a Sunday night tilt against the Cowboys. In fact, it’s quite uncommon for any team to be this close to the regular season without declaring a starting quarterback.
“This is all new for me. In Dallas Tony [Romo] was always the guy,” said defensive end Stephen Bowen, who played for the Cowboys last season. “Here, Beck and Grossman, they’re doing a real good job, so it’s up to the coaches [and] we’ll see who they go with.”
Other teammates would prefer to see the choice made quickly so the entire offense is on the same page for the week leading up to the matchup against New York.
“The sooner the better, but at the end of the day, I’m not the one making that decision and it’s a tough decision,” said running back Tim Hightower. “They’re both capable of having the job. I’m sure [the coaches] know that. They’ve been doing this a lot longer than me. They know when the right time is and they know how to get it done so I’m sure they’ll do that.”
The quarterbacks aren’t the only ones in need of another game. Running back Ryan Torain probably can’t overtake Hightower as the starting running back in one night, but he can work his way back into football shape and prove he deserves to be a part of what looks to be a solid group of running backs.
Elsewhere Mike Sellers, Evan Royster, DeJon Gomes, Chris Horton and others will get one last chance to show they belong on the final roster. Young Ryan Kerrigan needs all the in-game repetitions he can get at outside linebacker, while a crowded wide receiver corps dukes it out for another round.
And who said preseason games were devoid of storylines?
“[Normally] by now you’re just so sick of it,” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “You’re ready for the regular season, [but] I think it’s totally different this year. It’s the fourth preseason game, but we haven’t been doing it that long. Guys need more playing time.”
Like the rest of the league, Washington is behind schedule due to the lockout, yet that’s only raised the level of focus. The Redskins enter the final week of preseason play with a newfound sense of purpose that starts from the top and trickles all the way down.
“Everyday, guys are judged out here and it’s constant pressure on those guys and we’re evaluating everything,” said Kyle Shanahan. “We know each day guys take a step up or a step back and it’s really where are they are on that totem pole when it’s all said and done.”