- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When Brandyn Thompson takes inventory of everything he has done for the Washington Redskins over the past five weeks, his tumbling interception in the second preseason game doesn’t come to mind first. That is the type of play he expects to make, so there’s no reason for it to stand out.

Instead, the negative moments are what he remembers most; the times when he made the proper read but didn’t break up the pass for whatever reason.

With the Saturday 6 p.m. deadline for final cuts looming, Thompson is one of many rookies trying block out the on-field regrets and apprehension about making the team. Thursday’s home preseason game against Tampa Bay is the final chance for them to make their case.

“You think about it, but you just try to focus what you can control, and that’s your play on the field,” Thompson said.

Dozens of veterans and a couple of rookies can feel comfortable about their status. Shanahan has an idea of how many roster spots still are up for grabs, but he wouldn’t share details after Tuesday’s practice.

“This is a big game for a lot of players,” he said.

That includes many of the Redskins’ 12 draft picks.

First-round linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Second round defensive end Jarvis Jenkins is on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his right knee, so he’s out. Third-round receiver Leonard Hankerson and fourth-round running back Roy Helu appear to be fairly safe.

Beyond that, though, there’s considerable uncertainty - and anxiety.

“It’s pretty much all I think about,” seventh-round nose tackle Chris Neild said.

It’s not unusual for perennial contenders with quality depth to cut late-round draft picks. Those players often are not good enough to help the team.

Whether the current situation is an indication of the Redskins’ depth is debatable. But there is no denying the mixture of optimism, hope and angst around the center of the Redskins’ locker room, where rookies occupy removable metal lockers.

“Everybody is kind of on edge, but we’re all here trying to make this team,” sixth-round running back Evan Royster said. “That’s everybody’s goal. Nobody really expects to be cut.”

Each player’s outlook is unique because of how his skills fit into the depth chart at his position.

Neild is battling uphill at the center of the defensive line. Behind starter Barry Cofield, veteran Anthony Bryant proved a capable reserve during the final stretch of last regular season. Neild has played a considerable amount this preseason because coaches are comfortable with their knowledge of Bryant’s skills.

And then there’s the disadvantage at which all rookies are operating. They missed organized team activities and minicamps because of the lockout.

For Neild, that meant less time with coaches helping him adjust from the two-gap approach he played in college at West Virginia to the one-gap style required on the Redskins’ defensive line.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to look backside when I shouldn’t be,” Neild said. “It’s little habits like that that have been corrupting my play a little bit. But once I get those college habits out of the way, I’ll be fine.”

The question, though, is whether it’s too late.

Thompson considered the condensed evaluation period before he took the field Tuesday for the final full practice of the preseason.

“In some ways it was a disadvantage, but at the end of the day, what can you do?” he said. “You’ve got to get your head in the playbook and make up for lost time. I think as camp has gone on I’ve been able to understand the defense better.”

That has showed in his play. Thompson is in serious contention for a roster spot because of his speed and awareness. In addition to his interception against Indianapolis on Aug. 19, he ran stride-for-stride with Baltimore deep threat Lee Evans on a long incompletion last week.

He has one more chance to shine. Then it’s up to Shanahan and his staff, who have less evidence on which to base decisions than in previous seasons.

“I think it’s tougher on the evaluation,” Shanahan said. “Now you’ve got to make a decision on where they’re going to be in two months before you get a chance to see it. There’s going to be a lot more guessing going on than there has been in the past.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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