With Richard Crawford going down, the Redskins are left scrambling for a punt returner. The most likely options are a veteran like Santana Moss or DeAngelo Hall, using Niles Paul, or going with a rookie who probably wouldn’t have made the roster otherwise, Chris Thompson, Skye Dawson and Nick Williams. Moss is probably the safest and best option, but he’s also a veteran and an integral part of the offense so perhaps you wouldn’t want him returning punts. Paul is probably steady, but unspectacular guy. Dawson and Williams are simply long shots at this point, but they do have experience in the area. Chris Thompson unfortunately doesn’t have the experience and it could be risky putting him back there. While tonight won’t solely decide this position, it could matter if Chris Thompson does prove effective and it minimizes the risk of using him.
Prediction: I think this one could be a surprise come week 1, but I don’t see it being Thompson or a UDFA.
-This is going to be a tough battle, but it also could be a battle that is all for naught as the team could decide to go with only five receivers. Given that the top five receivers are a pretty good group, and the team has four tight ends, including athletic ones like Fred Davis, Niles Paul and Jordan Reed that can split out wide, there isn’t a great need for a 6th receiver. That being said I think the Redskins will end up keeping one, given that Mike Shanahan almost always has at least 6 receivers (if not more) on his roster. Though some could look at longer shots like Skye Dawson or Nick Williams as an option since they could be in the mix for the punt return job, this battle really boils down to Dezmon Briscoe and Lance Lewis. Briscoe is actually the younger of the two, despite entering his 4th year in the league. Briscoe didn’t end up doing much for the Redskins in 2012, but in 2011 he was the Buccaneers 3rd or 4th receiver during the season, and proved himself to be an effective option, particularly in the red zone. Lewis is entering his 2nd year in the league, after being on the Redskins practice squad last year. He had a very productive career at ECU and has flashed in both seasons during camp. Both are bigger receivers which is a plus. Lewis might be the faster of the two, but neither is a real deep threat. This is going to be a good battle to watch. What it could come down to is the fact that Lewis has another year of practice squad eligibility so the Redskins could still likely retain him if they cut him.
Prediction: Briscoe does enough to keep the final receiver spot.
-First the Redskins need to decide if they are even keeping a 9th offensive lineman, as they could go with just 3 back-ups and save a roster spot for another position. That seems like a risky move at this point, so I will say they go with nine guys. Now the question becomes who are those guys? Despite a poor preseason it is very likely that guard Josh LeRibeus is safe, given his 3rd round draft status from a year ago. From there it becomes an interesting question. Is Tom Compton safe due to his potential, or a veteran guy like Tony Pashos due to his experience. I’m going to say that Compton is safe, with Pashos needing to be in the mix for one of the final two spots. Of those two spots I see Pashos competing with 2nd year guard Adam Gettis (who does have practice squad eligibility) and journey-man center Kevin Matthews. Pashos would give them that veteran presence, while Gettis is a young guy with potential, who really has outplayed Josh LeRibeus at this point. Matthews is more of journeyman, but he’s been solid thus far in camp/preseason, and he’s a natural center which none of the other back-ups can say they are. If Will Montgomery were to go down, Kory Lichtensteiger would be forced to move over from guard. That means you could be weakening two positions because of one injury. Matthews would allow you to keep the left side of the line intact, and only weaken one spot. Currently it is likely that Pashos and Gettis get the final two spots, but with the starters not playing tonight the back-up unit will get plenty of work, and Matthews could work his way into the mix with a strong game.
Prediction: Tony Pashos and Adam Gettis end up 8 and 9. If Josh LeRibeus and Gettis had the draft status reversed I would go with Matthews over LeRibeus.
-The top two running back spots are locked up, and if the team keeps a 4th back, it will be more of a way to keep Chris Thompson on the active roster (and possibly that he won the punt returner job). This role for the third back will come down to two guys: Evan Royster and Keiland Williams. Royster was a 6th round pick by the Redskins in 2011 and due to injuries was forced to start the final two games of the year. Royster proved up to the challenge, rushing for a combined 245 yards on just 39 carries (a ridiculous 6.28 YPC). Last year though he dealt with a nagging injury to start the year and proved as a completely ineffective number 2 back. Keiland Williams is a former UDFA by the Skins in 2010. Due to injuries he ended up getting a fair amount of playing time and had a combined (rushing-receiving) 570 yards and 5 TD’s his rookie year. After being cut in 2011 and going to Detroit he came back late last season and served as the 3rd running back. Royster is the more natural runner with better vision and cutting ability, while Williams is probably better all-around as a blocker and receiver. Williams real advantages are his special teams play and versatility to play the FB role if Darrel Young were to go down. Royster had a strong first game in the preseason, but then Williams has gotten a lot of work the last two games and looked pretty good. Tonight though Royster is expected to get some carries to try to win this spot. I think right now Williams has the lead, and it is likely that special teams could be an edge that Royster just can’t surpass.
Prediction: Keiland Williams wins this spot
–Brandon Meriweather, Bacarri Rambo, and Reed Doughty are locks, the battle is between Jordan Pugh, DeJon Gomes and Jose Gumbs for the 4th safety spot. It is possible (perhaps even likely) that the team keeps a 5th safety, though they could decide to look around the league for options. This battle is likely going to come down between Gomes and Pugh for the 4th spot, with the other being cut. Gomes has been with the team longer and probably the better special teamer, but Pugh is the more versatile safety and better able to back-up the free safety role on this team. With Reed Doughty already a better strong safety back-up, that is a clear advantage for Pugh. Neither safety is that impressive as Gomes has struggled in coverage and Pugh is below average in run support. Pugh had the stronger preseason so far, with Gomes making some costly mistakes in the first couple of games. It seems clear that Pugh is in the lead for this spot, but tonight’s game could sway the decision.
Prediction: Jordan Pugh wins this spot