- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2012


All you can ask of any NFL preseason game is that (a.) players who need the work get the work; and (b.) everybody emerges with with their limbs and faculties intact. Well, everybody important, at least.

From that standpoint, Washington Redskins‘ finale against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night at FedEx Field was an unqualified success. The final score — 30-3 in favor of the home team — was almost incidental, as it tends to be in these affairs. (Especially preseason game No. 4, when everybody of consequence sits out, and the clubs all but recruit volunteers from the stands.)

Of far greater significance were the few loose ends the Redskins still had to tie up. One was getting Billy Cundiff, their new kicker, settled in by setting him up with a few gimmes. Sure enough, Cundiff, late of the Baltimore Ravens, knocked through field goals of 39, 27 and 22 yards, plus three extra points. (He was wide from 46 on his other try, but we’ll forgive him.) Twenty-four hours after supplanting Graham Gano, he’s already in a decent groove.

Another Redskins objective was seeing to it that Roy Helu and Evan Royster, who have been mostly observers the past few weeks because of injuries, stretched their legs and got back into the offensive flow.

Consider it done. Helu carried 15 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns, Royster 10 for 44 and one score (before exiting with what Mike Shanahan called “a little sprained neck”). Assuming the “little sprained neck” doesn’t turn into a much bigger sprained neck, the pair should be ready for New Orleans 11 days hence.

Beyond that, it was hard to take your eyes off Brandon Banks as he made a frenzied last attempt to remain on the roster. As is his wont, he kept doing things that made you notice him, gaining 47 yards on a reception, 43 on a run and 22 on a punt return. (Quite the triple crown.) Does Mike Shanahan dare cut him?

Well, after fan favorite Chris Cooley was let go Tuesday, you can’t be too sure about much of anything. What is clear, though, is that the NFL’s numbers game is getting increasingly complicated. Consider: Years ago, when rosters were at 45, clubs always seemed to find room for kick-return specialists. But now, even though the limit is 53, return guys are often seen as a luxury.

Shanahan explained why after the game. With kickoffs moved up to the 35, he said, “the ball isn’t going the other way.” That is, there are many more touchbacks than before. What’s more, “when you punt, you can always punt away from the returner. The value [in a kick returner] was there a few years ago. But the value has diminished.”

That doesn’t bode well for Banks, despite his fine showing against the Bucs — and a 91-yard score on a punt runback in Chicago earlier in the preseason. And it’s not like, outside of him, this team is oozing with pizazz. Indeed, aside from Robert Griffin III, who was held out Wednesday night to spare him further bruising, the Redskins might not have another player possessing pizazz. (Santana Moss used to in a previous life, but now he’s virtually pizazz-free.)

Thing is, Banks feels like he’s finally got the hang of this wide-receiver business after being a slotback/running back at Kansas State. No matter, though. “I think I put enough on film to have a job somewhere,” he said. “It not here, somewhere else.”

It’ll be interesting to see if he’s right. Shanahan has contended throughout camp that, in Year 3, he has more depth than he’s ever had in Washington. Tough decisions at final-cutdown time, he said after the game, are “problems you want to have,” because it means there’s spirited competition for spots.

So the coming days will be a test — a test of what everybody in the organization has been saying about the Redskins‘ talent level. If the club really has taken it up a notch, then some of the players that get cut — Banks, maybe, or Anthony Armstrong (just to throw out a couple of possibilities) — should be able to find work with another team.

That said, I’d be surprised if Shanny and Bruce Allen didn’t scour the waiver wire and perhaps even claim a discard or two — or sign another veteran free agent like Cundiff. The Redskins might be deeper than they’ve been, but they’re far from a finished product. And with no first-round pick the next two years (thanks to the RG3 trade), they have to upgrade the roster however they can.

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