It looked good on paper. Before Wednesday night's 30-3 preseason win, Washington Redskins linebacker Bryan Kehl jotted down what he wanted to accomplish.
"I had some goals for some stats: number of tackles. I put three tackles for loss, he said. "I had a sack on there. I had two quarterback hits. It was all written down. And I had an interception."
Turns out the best-laid plans of a man trying to make the Redskins' roster turned out almost as he imagined. Kehl intercepted and sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brett Ratliff and finished with six tackles.
It was the kind of night Kehl dreamed of and needed, given that he's on the bubble with final cuts to the 53-man roster coming Friday.
"My thoughts coming into the game was lay it out there on the line, let the chips fall where they fall. And I think I did that," he said. "I laid it all out there, I gave everything I had. And they got tough decisions to make, and what happens happens. I'm at peace with the way I played tonight and what I put out there."
Kehl was finally at peace after a couple of dropped passes earlier this preseason that should have been interceptions. Had he come up with the ball at the Chicago Bears, it could have won the Redskins the game.
So the 28-year-old caught 200 balls from the JUGS machine at practice since that drop, with the work paying off in the form of his fourth-quarter interception Wednesday. "Words can't describe" how that felt, he said.
Perhaps a little painful?
"It's kind of funny: Like two plays before my calf kind of started cramping, and right before I broke to get that ball, it cramped," he said. "And so I caught it and I got up, and I just kind of had a hitch in my giddy-up. I couldn't quite turn on the after-burners. But I'm excited to watch it and see. I think it was just that one guy I had to beat. It was a good return, I think, for a defensive guy."
Kehl's interception return went for 43 yards, his most memorable play on a night that he made his presence felt. Even before the pick, he got a sack and was noticeable all over the field.
"I'm just glad it went really well. Come what may, you can't control everything, but you can control your effort and that's really my whole thing, coming into the game today was I was just going to lay it out there," Kehl said. "Just make these coaches know that win, loss, draw, I'm going to be going a hundred miles an hour."
The coaches saw that.
"Bryan is a very intelligent player, first-class young man," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He does everything that you ask him to do, both on and off the football field. He doesn't make very many mistakes and made a big interception today and made a lot of tackles. He helped himself, that's for sure."
Kehl smiled when told of Shanahan's endorsement, but that's far from a promise of a roster spot.
Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley, London Fletcher, Ryan Kerrigan and Lorenzo Alexander are locks. Kehl wants to be on the roster while working alongside and competing with the likes of Chris Wilson, Keenan Robinson, Rob Jackson and Markus White.
"It's kind of interesting this year. This is my fifth year; I've never been so uncertain as I am right now. I really don't know what they're going to do. It's just kind of a numbers deal. I've never been on a linebacker corps that's so talented. Also I've never been in a defense that I've loved so much," Kehl said. "So I've never wanted to make a team as much as I want to make this one, and I've never been as uncertain as I am right now. That being said, I'm confident and hopeful and very pleased with what I put out there, and I hope they make a good decision. I know that I can help the football team."
Kehl made a good last impression in the preseason, showing that he can help in a lot of ways. Scoring on the interception would have been "a little cherry on top," but fundamentally the BYU product understands he needs to be valuable on special teams.
"I don't know how much they value that, but I think it should help. Unbiased, I look at myself as good a special teamer as there is out there," he said. "They got good special teamers and I know that I can help them out on special teams. Will they value that? I don't know. I hope they do, and I hope that maybe that's the deciding factor. Maybe it's not, I don't know."
Uncertainty is the name of the game for Kehl and many others on the roster bubble. He said he was happy not to be Shanahan and Co. because the decisions become so hard.
But Kehl presented his case Wednesday and throughout this preseason.
"I'm pleased with the body of work, from the start of camp, OTAs, everything what I put out there," he said. "I think I've shown that I can contribute, defense and special teams especially. I don't make decisions; they'll make the decisions. We'll see what happens. But I'm pleased and definitely at peace with what I put out there."
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