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Steelers present Redskins’ first challenge of the preseason

Cram session over; it’s time for the test

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Ready or not, here the Washington Redskins come.

Coaches and almost 90 players spent the last 17 days cramming an entire offseason's worth of player acquisitions, practice repetitions and film study sessions before the product goes on display Friday night in the Redskins' preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FedEx Field.

The four-month NFL lockout has forced all 32 teams to play catch-up since the league reopened for business July 26, and Friday the Redskins will measure their progress against an opponent for the first time.

"It's weird that we're playing," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "It doesn't seem like there should be a game in such short a time. From that standpoint, I'm looking forward to seeing how those guys interact with each other."

The compressed calendar makes this game much more intriguing than the usual preseason opener.

Several veterans acquired in the past two weeks are expected to make their Redskins debuts, along with 12 draft picks. Washington's starting quarterback competition will begin to play out, and returning players can show what they learned from coach Mike Shanahan's 6-10 debut season.

Quarterback Rex Grossman is the headliner. John Beck's availability is doubtful because of a strained groin that limited him in practice all week, so Grossman should get the first crack at proving himself worthy of the starting job.

He started the final three games last season and finished with a passer rating of 81.2 — the best season-ending mark of his eight-year career. It's a minuscule sample size but large enough to instill self-confidence.

"I feel like I have a good understanding of the offense and what Kyle [Shanahan, the offensive coordinator] is asking me to do," Grossman said. "I fully understand the verbiage and all that. It's just getting my body and my mind to go through the progressions as I need."

Grossman has said he expects to play at least into the second quarter. Because the Redskins will need to see Beck play when he is healthy in the coming weeks, Grossman must take advantage of an extended opportunity against Pittsburgh's veteran defense.

"I have high expectations ... 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. "Everyone's reps are at least cut in half, missing those 14 OTA days. It will be a new experience for all of us."

Several other offensive elements warrant monitoring, as well. The Redskins are debuting a reworked offensive line with former guard Will Montgomery starting at center and free agent Chris Chester starting at right guard.

The competition at receiver is particularly intense. Washington drafted three receivers, traded for veteran Jabar Gaffney and signed free agent Donte' Stallworth. Three new faces at running back include veteran Tim Hightower and draft picks Roy Helu and Evan Royster.

"Last year, we kind of knew who our guys were ... and the depth wasn't there," Kyle Shanahan said. "I think we've got better depth this year. There's going to be some competition in there from the first quarter all the way to the fourth."

On defense, nose tackle Barry Cofield is one of four projected starters acquired via free agency in the offseason. Right defensive end Stephen Bowen and cornerback Josh Wilson are expected to play. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe's Redskins debut might have to wait because of a hamstring injury.

First-round pick Ryan Kerrigan will play for the first time at left outside linebacker after playing defensive end in college. Considering all the new parts, the defense needs these preseason games to jell.

For Cofield, it's a matter of mastering his new responsibilities. He came from the New York Giants' 4-3 defense; now he's playing a new position in a 3-4.

"You understand that your technique and certain things may not be there, but your effort and your mentality and your aggressiveness have to be there, regardless," he said. "It may not be perfect, but as long as guys are flying around and playing hard, I think we'll be happy."

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