- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 26, 2017

ASHBURN — Two preseason games down, two ineffectual performances from the starting offense, one central question: When it’s only preseason, what is legitimate cause for worry?

“Not much,” said right tackle Morgan Moses.

Moses believes that the preseason routine, when there are 90 players on the roster to give reps to and game-planning is limited, is too far removed from that of the regular season to offer a clear picture of the Redskins. If the first preseason game is like a regular season game’s third cousin twice removed, the third preseason game should be at least a step-sibling. There are still some critical differences, but it’s normal to lump them under one roof. 

“We actually took this week as a mock regular season week, so our preparation was pretty scheduled,” offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said, explaining his approach to the third preseason game, which the Redskins and Bengals kick off at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field.

Washington installed its plans for first and second downs on Wednesday, third downs on Thursday and short-yardage, goal-line and red-zone plays on Friday. The first several plays on offense will be scripted; the play sheet has also been narrowed down to reflect the Bengals as the opponent. The starters will get between a half and three quarters of work.

Big Mo still has a point. There is (almost) nothing panic-worthy that can happen in a preseason game. Three preseason games in another story. The Redskins need to avoid a third-straight flat exhibition performance if they don’t want to legitimize the mounting concerns.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in Redskins-Bengals (the Jay Gruden Bowl!) on Sunday:

Does the offense look whole again?

Tight end Jordan Reed will be a game-time decision, but it seems more likely than not that he plays Sunday. Receiver Josh Doctson played only 18 snaps against the Packers last week, splitting time with the first and second team offensive units. If Reed is back and Doctson plays more snaps with the first team, quarterback Kirk Cousins will have all his weapons in their regular roles. 

One thing Cousins hasn’t been able to do in the first two games is work the middle of the field. Reed should help there. Normally, Reed would be kept on ice for most, if not all, of the preseason. He missed all of training camp and the first two weeks of preseason because of soreness in his left big toe. If Reed is able to go Sunday, he may get more work than he normally would because he’s missed time. 

Reed, though, has shown over his career that he gets back up to speed quickly.

“He’s just one of those freakish guys that has the luxury of doing that,” Gruden said.

Gruden hopes to see Reed help out a bit in the run game and catch a couple passes himself. If Reed plays in the 20-snap range or higher, that would have more to do with the need to get the starting offense going than to help Reed as an individual. The trickle-down impact Reed’s playing time has on Vernon Davis, Niles Paul and Jeremy Sprinkle will also be of note. It seems likely the Redskins will keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, but Sprinkle will need to continue to make plays to ensure that.

Does Chase Roullier look ready to start?

Roullier, the backup center the Redskins drafted in the sixth round, may not have to start Week 1. Spencer Long may have recovered from meniscus surgery in time. The Redskins are preparing Roullier, who will start at center on Sunday, for that possibility, though. 

Even if Roullier only had to start a single regular season game, the Redskins would need him to be good. Week 1, at home against Philadelphia, is one of the more winnable division games the Redskins have, and the Eagles have a monstrous front seven. Roullier doesn’t have much time to get up to speed with the starting linemen, so a smooth start Sunday would help boost his confidence.

Can the run game do anything?

The number one thing Gruden wanted to see last week was improvement in the run game. He didn’t get that from the starting unit. Rob Kelley gained nine yards on nine carries. That’s not just on him. The offensive line didn’t give him much room to run. Particularly since the first several plays on offense will be scripted, it’ll be interesting to see how Gruden and Cavanaugh try to establish the run, which should be a priority. 

Rookie Samaje Perine had a bounce-back game against Green Bay, the most promising performance from a Redskins running back so far this preseason. It wasn’t anything technical that he changed that pleased Gruden most, it was that he responded well after a drop and a fumble in the preseason opener in Baltimore. Perine figures to help the Redskins most immediately in the red zone so, with the starters getting at least a half, it’ll be interesting to see if Perine gets worked in at all when the field gets short. It was a bit odd last week to see third-down back Chris Thompson getting many of the red zone touches.

Will Junior Galette finally take the field?

When Trent Murphy tore his ACL and MCL against Baltimore, it became instantly more important for Junior Galette to stay healthy. Galette could play his first game since 2014 on Sunday. If he can get after the quarterback and help set the edge against a dynamic running game with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard the Redskins will be very happy. First, Galette just needs to get on the field.

Cornerback competition

Seventh-round pick Joshua Holsey has worked himself into serious contention for a roster spot, which would probably come at Quinton Dunbar’s expense (especially because Fabian Moreau is healthy). The Redskins have tapped Holsey as their second nickel corner, behind Kendall Fuller. 

At 5-foot-10, Holsey is better suited to play in the slot in the NFL than outside. He’s done both in practice for the Redskins, and though he mostly played outside his senior year at Auburn, Holsey has experience working in the slot as well.

“I played in the slot a lot my sophomore and junior year,” Holsey said Friday. “I didn’t play that much my senior year because I was outside but I played a good amount of nickel and dime inside.” 

If Holsey continues to perform, the Redskins will become more and more set on keeping him. 

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