Redskins preseason opener matters for players on the fringe

August 8, 2018

August is a strange month on the professional football calendar. It connects the summer with the regular season by teasing fans, who waste no time trading in their desire to watch live NFL action for impatience with sloppy exhibition games.

That is the reality of the NFL preseason, which, for the Washington Redskins, finally begins Thursday in Foxborough, Massachusetts with a game against the New England Patriots. The final score will be quickly forgotten, but the game matters more to certain players than casual fans realize.

When new Redskins receiver Paul Richardson was a rookie, he did not know the preseason opener would be his first time wearing his full Seattle Seahawks uniform. Now with a new team, he said he feels like a rookie once more.

“My rookie year, I couldn’t wait for the first preseason game,” Richardson said. “I was like, ‘You guys play in your real uniforms in the preseason?’ So, you know, it’s kind of like that moment again, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Rookies, indeed, are the players for whom preseason games matter most. The early draft picks don’t have to worry about making the team, though in some cases like with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in last week’s Hall of Fame Game the early action against an unfamiliar opponent helps.

It’s more about the late-round picks and undrafted free agents, a fraction of whom will make the 53-man roster in four weeks. Richardson, asked to name someone he is excited to see face New England, rattled off most of the receiver depth chart, from Maurice Harris down to Shay Fields and Darvin Kidsy.

“It’s the preseason, but for them, they’re playing for their hopes, their dreams, their futures, their families, so I think that they’ve been taking it pretty serious preparing and I think they’re going to go out and show what they can do,” Richardson said.

Linebacker Mason Foster translated that sentiment into the language of defense.

“I can’t wait to see them go hit somebody else,” he said. “You know [how] it getspeople get tired of hitting the same guys over and over.”

Preseason tape undoubtedly matters to Gruden and his staff when they evaluate the team’s numerous position battles.

“The thing is, what you think you know already ‘OK, this guy has no chance’ and then all of in a sudden preseason game he lights it up. Then all of a sudden, boom, he’s in the mix also,” Gruden said. “When the games kick off, the cream will rise to the top and that’s what we have to see.”

Gruden kept under wraps who he would play and for how long, adding that the team’s unofficial depth chart released Monday would not really reflect who will get reps.

“It’s just something that we had to put out there and I didn’t even really look at it,” Gruden said with a laugh.

Chris Thompson will not play, and Trent Williams is doubtful until the third preseason game against the Denver Broncos, Gruden said earlier in the week. First-round pick Daron Payne has not practiced since July 27 with an ankle issue and is also unlikely to see action.

What should the Redskins expect across the field? The Patriots don’t need to see much from Tom Brady to evaluate whether they’ll keep him around. When Brady’s night is done, the Redskins will face backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling, a seventh-round rookie, for most of the game.

And they won’t be seeing anything from running back Sony Michel, the Patriots’ first-round selection last spring. Michel had his knee drained earlier in the week, a procedure that will keep him off the field for “at least” 10 days, reports say.

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