- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2021

ASHBURN — The Washington Football Team went into Saturday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens with four spots up for grabs on the team’s upcoming 53-man roster, according to coach Ron Rivera

By the end of the 37-3 loss, a couple more spots were in the mix.

“I’ll say right now at minimum six guys, six positions were impacted last
night,” Rivera said Sunday.

Rivera didn’t specify which positions he was talking about, but meetings already have begun ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. cutdown deadline for teams to trim from 80 players to 53. And for Washington, those conversations will likely come down to the wire. Unlike the past few years, this team is much deeper, especially on the back end of the roster — making it harder for Rivera and company to hone in on the lineup.

The task gets tougher, too, when factoring in injuries. Over the next few days, Washington will have to determine how it wants to handle players that it likes, but who have not been available because of injury. Of course, banged-up players like wideout Curtis Samuel (groin) and cornerback William Jackson III (thigh) are safe, but there are others like defensive lineman Casey Toohill (toe) and safety Darrick Forrest (hamstring) whose injured presence complicates matters. 

Even on Saturday, cornerback Torry McTyer — deemed a “pleasant surprise” of camp by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio — suffered a concussion. McTyer was on track to likely be the team’s fifth cornerback. Does that change with a last-minute injury?  

“It’s very disruptive,” Rivera said when asked how injuries factor into the team’s roster decision-making. “We’ll have to see how he is … and we’ll go from there. When you have guys that aren’t available to play — (defensive lineman) James Smith-Williams was not able to play, Casey Toohill was not able to play – that’s a little bit of a disappointment because those are guys you want to see play. 

“Those are guys you have slated in certain positions, and for them to get out there and miss that opportunity to work and help, that’s big.”

The injuries create a situation in which Washington could set its 53-man roster by Tuesday’s deadline, only for certain spots to change within the next few hours and days. That’s normally the case anyway, but there’s another layer to the process this year. For a second straight season, the NFL is allowing teams to place players on shorter-term injured reserve — meaning they’ll only have to miss a minimum of three games compared to eight.

Teams can once again bring back as many players as they want off the list when cleared, whereas before teams could generally only bring back one or two players per season. The change was made to create flexibility in case a player was sidelined by the coronavirus, but the tweak turned out to be a huge hit among the league’s coaches and executives. 

In this case, perhaps, say, Toohill makes the 53-man roster and then immediately is placed on injured reserve. That would free up a spot for potentially seventh-rounders Shaka Toney or William Bradley-King, depending on if they don’t survive roster cuts. 

“We’re not going to make change just to make change,” Rivera said. “We’re going to do it if it’s going to help us.”

When determining the roster, Rivera said he’ll focus on the offensive and defensive lines first. Ideally, Rivera said the team would “love” to keep 10 offensive linemen particularly because that depth should come in useful with an added 17th game on the schedule. But that doesn’t mean Washington will retain that number — the expanded practice squad of 16 players could allow the team to stash a few of its linemen. 

Rivera said he’ll receive a list Monday from the team’s personnel department that are projected cuts for other teams. Rivera and the coaching staff will then pore through the names and evaluate whether they would be an upgrade for Washington

Rivera added that his team considers the “scuttlebutt” related to its own roster — monitoring social media or talking to others outside the organization to see if there are other teams interested in Washington’s players. The coach said there’s already been one specific player that a few teams have reached out to “some people that we know” to inquire if he’ll make the 53-man roster. 

After hearing about the interest, Rivera said the interest motivated Washington to call those teams to see if a potential trade can be ironed out.

“The more information you get, I think the more it gives us the opportunity to investigate things,” Rivera said. “Believe me: The only thing they can say, really, is no and that’s not going to hurt my feelings. That’s the truth of the matter. To me, it’s worth taking that next step. 

“So that’s why we try to gather as much information as we can, even if it is just scuttlebutt.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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