A viewer’s guide to watch­ing the Red­skins preseason opener.

A viewer’s guide to watch­ing Red­skins-Ravens ex­hi­bi­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

RICH­MOND | There’s a good way and a bad way to watch preseason foot­ball.

The bad way is to care about who wins.

The Red­skins open the preseason in Bal­ti­more on Thurs­day at 7:30 p.m. Kirk Cousins and the start­ing of­fense should play just a se­ries or two, then hand things over to Colt McCoy and Nate Sud­feld. Let this serve as your watch guide, with things to look for and point­ers on how to get the most in­for­ma­tion out of the game. If you’re in the mar­ket for a pre­dic­tion, though, you’ll have to look else­where.

Pay (some) at­ten­tion to who starts

This mostly ap­plies on de­fense. The Red­skins start­ing of­fense is clear, but you won’t see it Thurs­day be­cause of in­juries. Kirk Cousins’ top three tar­gets Jor­dan Reed (toe), Jami­son Crow­der (ham­string) and Josh Doct­son (ham­string) are all out. Watch Ter­relle Pryor (it’s fun) and check out how Rob Kel­ley looks when tack­lers are ac­tu­ally try­ing to bring him down.

On de­fense it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Phil Taylor is the player who has done the most to es­tab­lish him­self as the start­ing nose tackle, and he’s listed as a starter on the team’s un­of­fi­cial depth chart, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the Red­skins went with Joey Mbu or A.J. Fran­cis over him.

On the one hand, it’s not too im­por­tant who starts in a preseason game, but it is one way for coaches to re­ward or mo­ti­vate play­ers. Be­tween Stacy McGee and Ter­rell McClain, for

in­stance, McGee has looked the bet­ter of the two Red­skins free agency ac­qui­si­tions along the de­fen­sive line. If McGee gets the starter treat­ment, and plays few snaps, it’ll serve as fur­ther proof that the Red­skins are sat­is­fied with what they’ve seen from him. The longer they keep some­one like McClain out there, the more the coaches are say­ing “Show me some­thing.”

McGee and McClain are easy to lump to­gether be­cause of how and when they joined the team (plus the whole Mc thing) but the same kind of think­ing ap­plies to many play­ers. In­side line­backer Zach Brown has had a great camp, but is listed be­hind Ma­son Fos­ter on the depth chart. Will their play­ing time in­di­cate that that’s an ac­cu­rate hi­er­ar­chy?

Out­side line­backer and sec­ond-round pick Ryan An­der­son has flashed im­mense tal­ent and pas­sion through­out camp, but it wouldn’t be a sur­prise if he takes 20 snaps or more Thurs­day be­cause he’s also looked lost at times, like any work in progress.

Watch the heavy hit­ters

When­ever a run­ning back rips off an im­pres­sive carry dur­ing train­ing camp, a lit­tle warn­ing bell should go off as a re­minder that no one is tack­ling. Start­ing run­ning back Rob Kel­ley cut five per­cent of his body fat this off­sea­son and has looked mus­cu­lar and pow­er­ful. Fourth-round rookie Sa­maje Per­ine has also im­pressed dur­ing camp, rou­tinely dis­play­ing the power and for­ward mo­men­tum that could even­tu­ally help him push Kel­ley for the start­ing job, and should help in the red zone right off the bat.

Still, all that comes with an as­ter­isk un­til they do it against an­other team. Per­ine, in par­tic­u­lar, has a ways to go in the pass­ing game, but that’s not go­ing to be fixed in one game. Look to see if the Red­skins backs are break­ing into the sec­ond level and hav­ing suc­cess run­ning up the mid­dle.

On de­fense, watch the lineback­ers and safeties. The Red­skins had the worst de­fense against tight ends in the NFL last sea­son by yards al­lowed and re­cep­tions, and bet­ter play from those po­si­tions would go a long way to­ward fix­ing that.

Pre­ston Smith (an­kle) is out and the likes of Ryan Ker­ri­gan, Trent Mur­phy, Will Compton, D.J. Swearinger and Su’a Cravens aren’t likely to play much. But do the Red­skins have any depth in lineback­ers Martrell Spaight, Lyn­den Trail or sev­enth-round pick Josh Har­vey-Cle­mons?

Look for down-the-ros­ter stand­outs

The ob­vi­ous di­rec­tion is to look at McCoy and Sud­feld. McCoy has had a good train­ing camp while Sud­feld has been iffy. With­out Reed, Crow­der and Doct­son, though, there will also be plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for wide re­ceivers like Ryan Grant, Robert Davis, Brian Quick, Matt Hazel and Zach Pas­cal. Grant is prob­a­bly safe, but the other four are fight­ing for their spots in Septem­ber.

All have made plays, but also mis­takes, work­ing with the sec­ond and third team de­fenses in train­ing camp.

Also look at fifth-round tight end Jeremy Sprin­kle. He’s enor­mous (6-foot-5, 252 pounds) and, while he’s an in-line, block­ing tight end, he’s made more than a cou­ple plays with his hands over the past 10 days, in­clud­ing a touch­down catch from Colt McCoy. With vet­eran Niles Paul also hav­ing a good camp, Sprin­kle will need to do enough to con­vince the Red­skins it’s worth keep­ing four tight ends.

On de­fense, you prob­a­bly haven’t heard much about un­drafted safety Fish Smith­son, but it caught our eye that Smith­son has stuck with the team while other bot­tom-of-the-ros­ter play­ers at that po­si­tion, Earl Wolff IV and Josh Evans, were waived and swapped for Ste­fan McClure and Tim Scott. DeAn­gelo Hall and fourth-round pick Mon­tae Ni­chol­son won’t play, so Smith­son should get am­ple reps.

If Smith­son makes the team it will be be­cause he can con­trib­ute on spe­cial teams. He was part of the first punt re­turn unit used dur­ing the Red­skins spe­cial teams prac­tice last Wed­nes­day. Smith­son ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at his Kansas pro day, which would have tied him for sixth among safeties at the com­bine.

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