Here’s what I’m thinking after the Redskins’ 30-3 victory over Tampa Bay in the preseason finale:
The Redskins don’t have an established elite receiver at the top of their depth chart – a Calvin Johnson-type, for example – but the bottom of the group will be better than in this coaching staff’s first two years. Improving the quality of receivers was the second-highest offseason priority, and the high intensity of competition there this summer shows they achieved that goal. They have players that add value in different ways, and choosing between them is going to be difficult.
Brandon Banks has elite speed but lacks size and is not a polished receiver. Dezmon Briscoe has good size and is more of a refined receiver, but he doesn’t play special teams. Anthony Armstrong is the best special teams cover guy in the bunch, and he has deep speed. Aldrick Robinson is fast and improving the quality of his routes, but he’s an inexperienced special teams player. Terrence Austin is the Redskins’ second-best receiver with experience in the slot, behind Santana Moss.
“It’s been crazy, honestly,” Armstrong said. “It’s just talent from top to the bottom. Everybody can play. It’s going to make difficult decisions. I feel like whoever doesn’t make the roster here will most definitely be on somebody else’s team.”
Banks made a strong final impression Wednesday by showcasing his elite speed. It’s a talent that can’t be taught. He’s limited as a route runner, but he can get behind the defense, as he showed on his 47-yard catch. The defensive back’s attempt to jam him was weak, to put it nicely, and Banks exploited that.
Will Mike Shanahan stick to his word about Banks needing to make the team as a receiver?
If we’re talking about Banks’ body of work there, I’m not convinced he has done enough to make the team. The negatives from the Buffalo game stand out.
“I’m really learning how to play wide receiver now,” Banks said Wednesday night. “When I was in college, I was playing slot back/running back. I learned a lot from that game: getting off jams, how to be in the right area where the quarterback wants me to be.”
Ultimately, I think Banks’ speed is too great an asset to cut. Even if he can’t run slants or crossing routes effectively because he is so short, he can be used on screens and deep routes if necessary. More importantly, he can change a game on returns. He’s the rare player that can win a game for you on one play. Even if the Redskins are deeper at receiver, what team can afford to get rid of that asset?
Briscoe was bummed after the game because he didn’t play special teams. His outlook was realistic, if not pessimistic.
“My position that I’m actually in, I think that matters a lot,” he said. “I’m not really too confident about if I’m going to make it or not. My offensive performance was pretty good this preseason, but I didn’t play any special teams.”
Briscoe was listed on the special teams depth chart for the game, but coaches never rotated him in. I think his roster fate comes down to how many receivers the Redskins are willing to keep. If they keep 26 offensive players and eight offensive linemen, there is room for seven receivers. Then you get into comparing Briscoe’s value to a defensive player’s, such as Bryan Kehl or DeJon Gomes.
RB Roy Helu, Jr.’s 90 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries should reassure coaches that they’re stable of running backs is intact. Helu did not experience pain in his inflamed Achilles tendons during the game, and he hopes he’s not too sore on Thursday.
Helu made several sharp cuts and burst through holes. Even though it looked good, it wasn’t up to his standards. He said he was rusty. Asked to elaborate, he said: “My acceleration. I think that will just develop more with repetitions and just having a few practices under my belt. Not being able to run for about 2 ½ weeks, I felt slow out there.”
Helu excelled in pass protection and had a pair of 17-yard receptions – two elements of third-down back material.
QB Kirk Cousins finished the preseason 42-of-73 passing for 560 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 84.3. The rookie showed so much to like over the four games. Cousins has validated Shanahan’s decision to draft another quarterback after Robert Griffin III as early as the fourth round.
Cousins is smart. Not only does he know where to go with the ball, he also understands situations. He ran for 11 yards on third-and-8 in the first quarter and slid beyond the marker. From the 4-yard line with 6 seconds left in the first half, he made his one read and then threw the ball away with 1 second on the clock, allowing the Redskins to kick a field goal.
He explained his interception by saying he tried to be aggressive on the throw down the middle to WR Aldrick Robinson.
“I didn’t really have another option on the play,” Cousins said. “I felt I could get it over the linebacker. I thought I did get it over the linebacker. It got slightly tipped, and he just didn’t come down with it. The ball was there to be caught, but it was a little high. I go back and I learn from that.”
New K Billy Cundiff made field goals from 22, 27 and 39 yards, but he missed from 46. Cundiff made 17 of 20 field goal attempts from between 40-49 yards over the last three seasons. The Redskins will have solved the kicker position when they get someone who reliably makes 40-49 yarders. Cundiff, in this small sample size, did nothing to prove he’s more reliable than Graham Gano.
Cundiff had five touchbacks on six kickoffs (83 percent). In the first three preseason games, Gano and Neil Rackers combined for three touchbacks on 13 kickoffs (23 percent).
The Redskins’ five sacks are indicative of their depth in the defensive front seven. Veterans such as Darrion Scott and Kedric Golston had sacks. Rookie ILB Keenan Robinson had half a sack. Also, Tampa Bay was bad at football last season. As the Redskins know, depth takes time to build.
Bryan Kehl is a tough cut at inside linebacker. Behind London Fletcher and Perry Riley, the Redskins have Lorenzo Alexander, who is in his first season playing the position full-time, and rookie Keenan Robinson. They could use experience at the position.
Kehl is not the most explosive linebacker, but he’s a smart player who can run. He undercut a throw over the middle for an interception, and he showed great speed on the return. He’s an asset on special teams and would add more value than Robinson on Sundays.
Here’s the list of players that sat out. They’ll be on the final roster. The most notable name: Sixth-round rookie RB Alfred Morris.
Assuming LG Kory Lichtensteiger, ROLB Brian Orakpo and SS Brandon Meriweather return for Week 1 as expected, the Redskins will have emerged from the preseason with their starting lineup intact. That’s a good way to start a critical season for coach Mike Shanahan.