I’m going to split my things to watch in the game tonight into 3 offensive things, 3 defensive things and 1 special teams:
-The Redskins signed Shaun Lauvao in the offseason and moved Kory Lichtensteiger to center, but otherwise this is the same unit that has struggled the past couple of years (outside of Trent Williams). The hope is the position change for Lichtensteiger will improve his game, but that is far from being clear cut. While Trent Williams will likely leave with the main starters, some of the other offensive linemen could stay to work with the 2nd unit. Unlike some positions where the Redskins can go 4 deep at a position the Redskins only have 14 total offensive linemen, which could mean some of the starters get some extra work. Early reports out of camp have the line being a question mark and this will be there first real test. Though the Patriots won’t go too crazy with showing wrinkles in their defense, they will likely be more challenging than what the Redskins have seen in practice. And unlike in practice where the quarterback can’t get hit if an offensive lineman makes a mistake, any errors tonight will be much more clear.
-The Redskins know who there 1 and 2 backs will be, but beyond that it is a bit murky. The Redskins could keep 2 back-ups, but that is far from guaranteed, which means 6th round rookie Lache Seastrunk and UDFA Silas Redd will be competing with 2nd year back Chris Thompson and 4th year back Evan Royster. The safe bet is the Redskins will find a way to keep Seastrunk, but he will have to earn his role. Redd has opened some eyes in camp, as has Chris Thompson in his 2nd year. Evan Royster seems to be the odd man out, but he’s got the most experience and versatility. With Morris and Helu likely done after the 1st quarter (maybe Helu works a little in the 2nd quarter), there should be plenty of chances for these four backs to separate themselves. This is a key game for these backs as well since Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason will see Morris and Helu carry the load quite a bit more.
-The Redskins offense struggled in general last season, but it was made even worse due to their struggles in the red zone with scoring TD’s. The hope is the new staff will help improve this efficiency and make the offense more potent, but that of course remains to be seen. Now we won’t see much from the starting unit, but we can still how the back-ups function when they get in near the end zone.
-The Redskins drafted Trent Murphy in the 2nd round with the promise that they would find ways to get him on the field. He should see plenty of time tonight in a back-up capacity, but the question remains how much will the Redskins be able to use him with their primary defense in their so called “Nascar” package. Now tonight won’t be a great test for Murphy’s time among starters as they are only likely to play a couple of series, but we can see how often the Redskins show the package in general tonight. This will also be an indicator of how aggressive the defense will be this season.
-Right now the Redskins starting inside linebackers are Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley. Behind that the Redskins brought in vets Akeem Jordan, Adam Hayward and Darryl Sharpton to go along with youngster Will Compton. While Robinson and Riley are the starters right now, things could definitely change. Riley has been a streaky player in his career and if he struggles the Redskins could turn elsewhere. Robinson on the other hand has missed the past year and a half due to injuries and it’s unclear what the Redskins can expect from him. While tonight’s game probably won’t shake up the starters, if some of these top back-ups play well it could point to them earning a starting role down the line.
-The top 3 corner spots are pretty well set (Hall, Amerson, Porter), after that though it is a free-fall for the final 2-3 corner back spots. Veteran E.J. Biggers probably has a leg up on one spot and rookie 4th rounder Bashuad Breeland is unlikely to be cut, but that doesn’t mean that the other young corners like Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford don’t have something to play for. The Redskins could very well keep 6 corners and while Biggers is in the driver’s seat for a roster spot right now, a lot could change between now and the end of camp. In addition to Minnifield and Crawford, the Redskins would love to see Breeland make some nice strides tonight. He’s been pretty raw in camp so far, so while he is pretty much a lock for a roster spot, he might be a guy who is on the inactive list most weeks unless he steps up. Even though they won’t be facing Tom Brady, tonight should be a nice test for the young corners.
-Tonight is the first big test in the kicking battle between incumbent Kai Forbath and rookie Zach Hocker. Reports have been up and down for both in camp, so it will be interesting to see what they do in live game action. This contest won’t be won in just one game, but this is a good first start. While FG accuracy will be key, Hocker could really give himself an edge with some strong kick-offs that force touchbacks. That is what he was brought in to do, so if Hocker doesn’t prove to be that much better on kick-offs it will really hurt his case.