A lot has transpired since the Redskins walked off the field in a 26-17 loss to the Patriots last Thursday.
Derrius Guice, which many had pegged as a difference maker, was lost for the season due to an ACL surgery.
The New York Jets visited Richmond to participate in joint practices.
This backdrop sets the stage as the Jets take on the Redskins in preseason game two on Thursday night. Below you will find key factors to focus on as the teams take the field.
Alex Smith’s Command of the Offense
In a franchise-altering move, the Redskins decided to let Kirk Cousins leave in free agency in favor of Alex Smith. After accumulating a 50-26 record in five years at Kansas City, the Redskins fan base is excited to see what their new quarterback can produce in the burgundy and gold.
Thursday should be Smith’s debut in a Redskins uniform, although it is expected that he only plays a few series. Early returns from training camp have alluded that Smith has a firm grasp of the offense and has looked sharp.
Small facets of his game, such as his poise, communication with receivers, and ability to get out of the huddle quickly have been shared by the team.
What will be interesting to see is how the Redskins offense will evolve under Smith. Several reports have stated that Jay Gruden has manipulated his offense to suit Smith’s strengths. Meaning, the quarterback will be on the move much more often.
Expect to see bootlegs, run-pass options, and even designed quarterback runs as Gruden takes advantage of Smith’s mobility.
Elements of the Chiefs offense will be present as well, as the Redskins attempt to use Paul Richardson in the Tyreek Hill role that he held in Kansas City.
Expect to see a lot of pre-snap motion and fake jet sweeps (in which the wide receiver motions behind the quarterback pre-play) to create confusion for the defense. These were all hallmarks of Andy Reid that will likely be adapted here.
Although Smith may be in for a limited snap count, look for some of these components as Colt McCoy takes the field as well. Smith and McCoy have similar skill sets.
The Jets Quarterback Situation
Although many of you will be tuning in to watch the Redskins, the Jets have an intriguing quarterback dynamic that deserves some attention.
Trotting out first for the Jets should be Teddy Bridgewater, the former Minnesota Viking who showed promise in his first two seasons as quarterback.
Before he could display his talents for year three, he suffered a catastrophic knee injury that almost cost him the use of his left leg. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs against an improved Redskins defense. Bridgewater completed seven of eight passes for 85 yards a touchdown in a 17-0 win over the Falcons last week.
Not to be overlooked, is the number three selection in the NFL Draft, University of Southern California product Sam Darnold. Many have claimed he was the best quarterback prospect coming out of the draft.
This sentiment was echoed by Redskins cornerback Josh Norman yesterday who claimed that Darnold “could not be baited” and “looked good”. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs tonight.
“Fat Rob” versus Samaje Perine
The loss of Guice sent a ripple effect throughout the organization and into the Redskins fan-base. Guice was expected to be the feature back, and was praised as the team’s most dynamic ball carrier since Clinton Portis. His loss will be felt, and the Redskins are now faced with the issue of how to replace him.
Robert Kelley will be called upon first to handle the workload for the team. A favorite of the coach, “Fat Rob” has produced in his time with the Redskins. When he took over as the primary back in 2016, Kelley rewarded the team with 704 yards and 6 TDs in nine games.
Kelley struggled due to injuries in 2017, but he has reported to training camp in shape (supposedly 15 pounds lighter) and has focused on his receiving skills.
Also in the mix for the featured back role is Samaje Perine. Lauded for his performance in Oklahoma (4,122 yards and 74 TD’s), Perine has had an up-and-down tenure in Washington. There have been peaks (back to back 100 yard games last November) and valleys (3.4 yards per carry, two fumbles) for the young prospect. His ceiling may be higher when compared to Kelley, but his inconsistency has frustrated coaches.
Further Depth at Running Back
The other running backs on the roster are competing to back-up third down threat Chris Thompson. Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall are jockeying for that role. Both showed promise last week, with Bibbs accumulating 48 yards rushing and Marshall scoring on a nice reception and scamper.
With the Redskins likely to dress four running backs for game day, it’ll be interesting to see who comes out of this running back competition. Kelley and Thompson are essentially roster locks, leaving Bibbs, Perine, and Marshall competing for reserve roles. Tonight’s game should provide more clarity for this battle.
If none of these prospects shine, the Redskins could be looking for alternative measures to supplement their backfield. Intriguing prospects include free agent Adrian Peterson, or potential roster cuts in Cameron Artis-Payne (Panthers), Jeremy Hill (Patriots), Mike Gillislee (Patriots) or Ameer Abdullah (Lions).
The Redskins Youth in the Secondary
How will the young defensive backs perform? And “can they handle their own”? Are viable questions the team are looking to answer tonight. With Scandrick’s release, the Redskins are now left with only one proven cornerback on their roster.
In Scandrick’s absence, Fabian Moreau will now take over the slot corner position. Gifted athletically, Moreau was discussed as a potential first round pick last year. Now is the time to prove he can handle the workload. It’ll be intriguing to see him with extended playing time.
Another person to focus on is Greg Stroman, who shined in his pre-season debut. This was a welcome relief considering he has struggled at training camp. Stroman had several eye-opening plays against the Patriots including a few pass breakups and flashed as a punt returner. Hopefully he continues to show growth tonight.
An aspect to keep an eye on is Stroman’s punt returning ability. It may be his most direct path to making the team.
Yes he was a standout in this role at Virginia Tech, scoring six non-offensive touchdowns during his tenure there. This is second all time at the school, only one behind the current record holder DeAngelo Hall.
If Stroman can display this skill-set Thursday and beyond, he may be on the active roster this fall.
The Continued Growth of Danny Johnson
Another person to watch for is Danny Johnson, who came out of nowhere this off-season. Coming to the Redskins as an undrafted free agent, the Southern University product led the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) with seven interceptions in 2016.
Considered a ball hawk, Johnson is an undersized corner (5’9”,181 Pounds) who mostly played the boundary in college. He will likely have to transition to slot corner due to the size of receivers on the NFL level.
Will he be able to do so? His emergence gave the Redskins confidence to move on from Scandrick and allow for a youth movement at the defensive back position. Hopefully he rewards the organization with a stellar performance tonight and throughout the preseason.
If the secondary falters tonight, the Redskins may look towards help outside of the organization. That is also something worth monitoring. Veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been linked to the team and may be added sooner rather than later.
Although his speed and ball-hawking abilities are welcome, his skills do come at a price. His addition may prohibit the team from offering extensions to key starters this off-season.