What to Watch in the Beltway Battle: Redskins at Ravens

Football is here! Fine, just the preseason version, but large men wearing burgundy and gold uniforms will be on the field Thursday night in Baltimore running and tackling and football-ing when the Redskins visit the Ravens.

Here are four things to watch in Washington’s preseason opener (which you can watch on NBC4 at 7:30 p.m., followed by Weekend Update and then News4 at 11).

Where is everybody?

Head coach Jay Gruden announced wide receivers Jamison Crowder (hamstring) and Josh Doctson (hamstring) would not play in the preseason opener. Washington remains without tight end Jordan Reed (toe). That means three of the Redskins’ top four receiving options will be in street clothes. That’s not ideal in terms of working out the kinks, though the first-team offense might not play more than one quarter regardless.

That also means more reps for those contending for roles and roster spots, including wideouts Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, rookie Robert Davis and Maurice Harris. Hulking fifth-round pick Jeremy Sprinkle and veteran Derek Carrier are potentially battling for one slot if the Redskins keep four tight ends.

Shuffle Play

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula dismisses depth chart talk in training camp. Gruden said roles remained undefined for free agent additions Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee. Phil Taylor is the first-team nose tackle on Washington’s unofficial depth chart, but he’s no roster lock. First round pick Jonathan Allen is -- and now we get to see what the Alabama product does against NFL opponents.

We probably won’t get any true insight into any future rotation or game planning in Baltimore. Vanilla schemes galore. Thursday’s game still provides spotlight opportunity for kids including Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier and Joey Mbu with perhaps only 1-2 spots available.

Who’s the next ‘Who’s that guy?’

All of the 53-man Week 1 roster projections from media types are wrong. Not just because injuries alter plans or some veterans will take a step back. Every year surprises occur because under the radar types show they belong.

Robert Kelley led the Redskins in rushing last season despite joining Washington as an undrafted free agent and roster long shot. Going for 40 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in Washington’s preseason opener helped the cause.

Who’s the next Kelley? Names to consider include:

  • Guards Isaiah Williams, Kyle Kalis and Tyler Catalina may all challenge Arie Kouandijo as the primary backup for Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao.
  • Hard-hitting safety Fish Smithson is swimming upstream considering the other candidates, but the All-Big 12 performer might show he’s no mere catch-and-release UDFA.
  • Sixth-round picks aren’t automatically sticking around, but wide receiver Robert Davis has a true chance thanks to his impressive 6-foot-3 frame.

Here’s another: Runningback Matt Jones on this list. (Hold up. Last year’s Week 1 starter is under the radar?) Sure is. It’s been long assumed Jones played his way off the roster after his fumbling woes and Washington drafting Samaje Perine. Let’s just see what happens if he rocks the preseason. If nothing else Jones might just up his trade value.

Achilles Heel

The Redskins have a reliable edge pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan. There’s a debate beyond him, especially with Trent Murphy suspended for the opening four games. That debates quiets if Junior Galette performs anywhere near the level he showed in New Orleans when he registered 22 sacks over two seasons. Galette missed the next two seasons with two torn Achilles, but he’s easily passed the early tests in training camp. If the 29-year-old makes plays Thursday and beyond, the defensive outlook is much improved.

Extra Point

Quarterback Kirk Cousins might play a drive or two Thursday, perhaps the full first quarter. Just enough to get in some live reps and work on timing with his new receiving toy, Terrelle Pryor. All that truly matters is keeping Cousins upright and off the injury report before backups Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld enter. Considering he’s playing on the one-year franchise tag for a second consecutive year, Camp Cousins would agree.

Speaking of the one-year contract, how McCoy and 2016 sixth-round pick Sudfeld perform in the preseason won’t alter any big picture plans next offseason. These four games are their only obvious attempt to try.

Ben Standig talks Wizards daily on the Locked on Wizards podcast, covers the Redskins for and tweets way too much via @benstandig.

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