When Washington takes on the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday at FedEx Field, the Burgundy and Gold will be facing a team without its top player. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has already been ruled out for the matchup — with Cincinnati keeping Burrow from returning to the field where he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last fall.
But for Washington coach Ron Rivera, there will still be plenty to evaluate. Ahead of Washington’s second preseason game, here are three key position battles to watch — featuring two starting spots and a key reserve position:
Free safety — Kam Curl vs. Bobby McCain: Curl got the start in last week’s game against the New England Patriots, but it will be interesting to see if stays that way for the Bengals. For most of camp, Curl has worked next to Landon Collins. But of late, Collins has seemingly played more with Bobby McCain, the free safety the team brought in on a one-year deal after the Miami Dolphins released the veteran in June. Washington likes to mix-and-match its safeties depending on the look — and the trio of Curl, Collins and McCain played in a sub-package the other day — but this could be something to monitor.
Left guard — Wes Schweitzer vs. Ereck Flowers: This might be the closest competition in camp. Schweitzer started on the left side in New England, but Flowers replaced him for the second series. Both are viable options for Washington. Flowers, who the team re-acquired from Miami in the spring, provides a physical presence on the interior and is slightly bigger than Schweitzer (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. Schweitzer, however, helped solidify the left guard spot for Washington last season after Wes Martin was benched after five games.
“We have guys that we think are very good football players and can step in and play at any time,” Rivera said of the battle at left guard. “To sit here and tell you anything other than that, I am just happy with what we have. I am really pleased to see it.“
Running back — Peyton Barber vs. Jaret Patterson: Washington kept three running backs on the roster in 2020, and if it does the same, then that last spot could come down to Barber and Patterson, the undrafted rookie who shined in his preseason debut. Against the Patriots, Patterson, a Maryland native who played high school football with Chase Young at DeMatha, rushed for 40 yards and 10 carries and caught four passes for 30 yards. It was a stellar performance, one that put Patterson in the conversation to make the 53-man roster.
But he’ll likely have to beat out Barber, the six-year veteran who’s used as a short-yardage back for Washington. Barber was effective again in that role last week, crossing the goal line for the team’s lone touchdown. He’s also slimmed down, losing some “baby fat” that has helped take pressure off the running back’s knees, Rivera said.
Still, Patterson is intriguing. He’s only 5-foot-7, but shares the record for most touchdowns in a college game with eight. Patterson was a star at the University of Buffalo and is now trying to carve out a career on his childhood team.
“My mindset was when I get my opportunity, to take full advantage of it and show these coaches that I belong,” Patterson said. “I belong in the National Football League.”