Should the Redskins play Alex Smith in tonight’s preseason game?

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There are more and more indications that the Redskins may opt to sit Alex Smith in tonight’s 2nd preseason game versus the New York Jets. Smith didn’t play at all in the first preseason game, but the Redskins are considering waiting until the third preseason game to unveil their new starting quarterback. If so this would be a very unconventional approach, but could it be the right one?

Typically we see starters play perhaps a series or two in the opening preseason game, followed by a quarter or more week two and the entire first half in week 3. Starters never play week 4 of the preseason, so ideally in three weeks you gave your starters around a full game’s worth of reps. Now that is a very general rule and with key veteran players they will typically end up with less time. The Redskins opted to rest almost their entire starting unit (some due to injury) in the first preseason game. Washington’s caution appeared warranted as two of their starters that played, Derrius Guice and Matt Ioannidis, got injured. Guice will now miss his entire season and significantly weakens the Redskins offense. Losing Alex Smith on top of Guice, could end the Redskins season before it began.

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Most starters are expected to play tonight, but some key offensive players are set to miss the game which could make the Redskins decision for them. Starting tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are both expected to sit as they are both recovering from injuries still. Top weapons like Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson could also miss the game or be very limited given their health status. With both starting tackles expected to miss the game, and potentially four of Smith’s top 5 or 6 passing weapons, does it make sense for Smith to play at all?

With both Williams and Moses missing time, the Redskins would likely be exposing Smith to more opportunities to be hit than they typically would. Last week the Redskins saw 3rd round rookie Geron Christian really struggle versus mainly 2nd and 3rd string players. Having him go versus the Jets starting defense isn’t going to make the Redskins coaches feel good about putting Smith out there.

With so many of Alex Smith‘s passing weapons potentially out, it takes away the strongest argument to play. Smith can’t build chemistry with his receivers if they aren’t on the field with him as well. While starting WR Paul Richardson will play, and TE Vernon Davis should be a key contributor, the majority of his weapons will be out. Smith and Davis have a number of years together from their time in San Francisco, and reportedly their chemistry in camp has been excellent.

The other reason the Redskins should be a bit more concerned with Alex Smith is that he’s dealt with a few injuries in his past. While relatively he’s been very healthy in his career and especially over the last few years, he is getting older and you have to worry about old injury concerns popping up. Smith suffered a couple serious shoulder injuries early in his career and he missed the entire 2008 season because of one of them. His shoulder has been fine since, but there is always a chance a bad hit could mess up an old injury. A greater concern could be concussions as Smith has two documented concussions over the past six seasons. Concussions are the type of injury that the risks compound the more you have them, so while two isn’t bad another one could be more serious and keep Smith out a longer period of time.

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Though I understand and support the Redskins being cautious with Alex Smith in this game, there is definitely a down side. Over the last three seasons the Redskins have had one of the better offenses in the league (particularly through the air), but they have generally come out of the gate flat. They have lost all three season opener games and have been no better than 2-2 after the first four weeks of any of those seasons. Limiting how much your starting quarterback plays in the preseason, probably isn’t going to improve your preparedness. Especially since he’s on a new team, learning a new offense.

If the Redskins weren’t dealing with so many other offensive injuries, sitting Smith would probably be a mistake. With those injuries though and the idea of protecting an older established player like Smith I think Jay Gruden can justify sitting his quarterback. Questions will remain though if the Redskins don’t get off to a good start this year and it costs them a playoff berth.

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