In the first preseason game the starters will play maybe 20 plays tops (some may see a few more), so little overall can be gained from their performance (unless it greatly exceeds or falls short of expectations). Instead I’m going to focus on offensive players who are fighting for jobs and/or returning from injury. So don’t expect to see Robert Griffin on this list, because despite how exciting it may be to finally see him on the field, it will do little to show how ready he is for the NFL. Also, the questions surrounding the offensive line are so great that they deserve their own post all together. Here are my top 5 offensive players I’ll be watching on Thursday:
-I have every expectation of Cooley making this team (assuming he remains healthy), but just how much of a role he’ll have will be dependent on how well he can still move. Cooley might not need the speed to stretch the field, but he has to still show enough short area quickness to get open. Also in the passing attack he’ll need to show good hands and precise route running to help his quarterback out. Another key area to watch Cooley is in his blocking. In the past it was never considered a strong suit of Cooley’s, but it would be at least passable for the most part. Given the continued concerns of Fred Davis’s blocking, Cooley can carve out a bigger niche in this offense by showing a wide gap between them in this area. Finally, it will also be interesting to see Cooley get some FB snaps while Darrel Young is injured.
-Like Cooley, Cousins is fully expected to make the team. This game still remains important to his developmental process, in that he could get quite a bit of work. With Griffin expected to play no more than 20 plays, and Grossman a known quantity, Cousins could end up getting the lion’s share of the work. How he looks will be a nice starting barometer for where he is as a back-up quarterback, and an initial indicator for how quickly he can assume the number 2 role for the Redskins. Cousins also has an added benefit to watch for this Thursday, and that is making the players around him more relevant. Typically a 3rd string quarterback would make it very hard to evaluate some of the back-up TE, WR, RB and OL battles, because their play would be so poor. Here though their will be less excuses as these other players look to make the team, because despite being a rookie Cousins is going to be a better QB option than most 3rd string QB’s (and probably by a wide margin).
-Paul has received a ton of hype this offseason as a guy who could be an integral part of the Redskins going forward. Now some of the expectations are well over the top, but Paul remains a very intriguing developmental player, especially since moving to tight end. Paul will get a chance to showcase himself at his new position this week. If he shows some ability to get open and stretch the field, while being an adept blocker, it will go a long way in proving that he’s a good fit for the position change.
-I’ve been as hard as anyone on Banks, given his poor returns and inability to prove anything on offense, but he will be a guy I’ll be focused on this week. This year the coaching staff has basically said that for Banks to make the roster he has to prove himself in an offensive capacity. Early returns in training camp have been promising for Banks as he tries to make it as a 5th or 6th receiver, but two questions have remained. Can Banks do it against better competition, given that most of his big gains are against DB’s the Redskins aren’t expected to retain. Second, can Banks get the job done when he’s getting hit. Now the answer to those questions won’t be fully answered this week, but it will be a start. While Banks will probably face some Bills DB’s not expected to make the roster, he will probably face some coverages against their back-ups as well. Those will be key snaps as well to see if he can get separation even if he’s not being targeted.
-Robinson I think it’s fair to say, is directly competing with Banks for a roster spot (they could both make it, but it is probably more likely that it is one or the other). Robinson has had an up-and-down camp so far, with some big plays, but some bad drops. He’ll need to show the ability to get open (again even if not targeted) and hopefully good hands on any catchable balls. Another key area to watch Robinson is special teams. If he can field the ball cleanly and come up with some big returns it would go a long way to making Banks expendable.