Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Thursday's Redskins-Jaguars Preseason Week 4 showdown at FedExField.
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With most of the Redskins' starters likely not playing Thursday against the Jaguars, it'll be Washington's second and third stringers who will get an opportunity to showcase what they can do over the course of an entire game.
On Monday, the Redskins cut their offseason roster from 90 to 75 players, as required by the league. After Thursday's game, the team has until Saturday at 4 p.m. to cut down from 75 to the regular-season 53-man roster.
Think about that for a second. In a matter of less than two days, the Redskins roster will shrink by 22 players – or almost 30 percent.
So for most players taking the field for Washington Thursday, there's a ton on the line. Head coach Jay Gruden said he's looking forward to seeing which players step up and make a last-minute case for a spot on the final roster.
"Practice, every rep that they take, they're evaluated – in practice and in the games. But the games are important," Gruden said. "It's a great experience for these young guys – not only on the defensive side of the ball but when they go to special teams. Huge, huge opportunity for them. Any time you cross the white lines on the football field in the National Football League, it's a great opportunity for you and a lot of guys hopefully will take advantage of it."
In case you haven't heard, Gruden on Monday announced that Kirk Cousins will be the Redskins' starting quarterback for the 2015 season.
So with Robert Griffin III yet to gain medical clearance after suffering a concussion in the first half of the team's Week 2 preseason matchup against the Detroit Lions, backup quarterback Colt McCoy will play the entire game Thursday against Jacksonville.
McCoy has turned in a solid preseason so far through three games for the Redskins, completing 19-of-24 passes (79.2 percent) for 208 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. That's an impressive 142.4 rating for the Texas product.
But because Gruden doesn't want to have to play his starting quarterback in the final preseason game – and due to the fact the only other option at the position, Griffin III, won't be cleared in time – there will be an added emphasis on keeping McCoy clean throughout the entire game.
McCoy has done a solid job evading the rush so far this preseason. He's yet to be sacked once and has made several off-schedule plays out of the pocket to move the ball up the field, or at the very least, live another down, as the cliché goes.
He'll need to continue this trend on Thursday against Jaguars defenders that, much like the Redskins' players, are hoping to make a splash in their final tryout opportunity.
CONTINUE DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE
Yes, it's only the preseason, but there is something to be said about the dominance of the Redskins' defense through its three preseason matchups.
In those three games, the Redskins are limiting their three opponents – the Browns, Lions and Ravens – to an average of just 213.7 yards per game. That's more than 17 yards better than the second place Dallas Cowboys (231.3 yards allowed per game).
These results mean the Redskins have packed in some major depth on the defensive side of the ball. The offseason news about the team's acquisitions up front and in the secondary masked the fact that the Redskins and first-year general manager Scot McCloughan did a solid job finding young players, both drafted and undrafted, to compete for a spot on the roster.
Look at a guy like outside linebacker Houston Bates. After going undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, Bates signed with the Redskins on May 18 and has slowly been able to display to the coaches what he can do. This preseason, he has looked explosive at times against other teams' second- and third-team offensive lines, collecting three sacks (tied for best in the NFL) and looking solid against the run and on special teams.
Now, he has a legit shot to claim a spot on the final roster.
"I'm just taking what they're giving me, reading the offensive linemen and just taking advantage of whatever their sets are," Bates said of his preseason approach. "Our coaches have been doing a really nice job of giving us tools to use in the game with hand skills and get-off and stuff like that. Just taking advantage of everything they're giving me."
HAVE SOME FUN
Of course those playing in Thursday night's Redskins-Jaguars game will have a ton on the line, so taking a "this is our Super Bowl" approach would certainly be understandable (see TAKE ADVANTAGEabove).
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 4 preseason matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
But those active for Washington on Thursday should also have fun while they're at it.
Many players taking the field for the Redskins against the Jaguars have gotten their NFL opportunity the hard way. They weren't draft picks or highly sought-after college free agents. Some went through NFL Regional Combines, some participated in a team's rookie minicamp, while others had to take a career out of football until just waiting until they got that call from a Redskins scout inviting them in for a tryout.
So while Thursday's game might be the end of the line for many players with the Redskins, you can imagine at some point they will take the opportunity to reflect on their journey.
Not to mention – there's 31 other teams, counting the Jaguars, watching Thursday's game, trying to find a steal when final roster cuts are announced. "There's a sense of urgency going in there," Redskins tackle Takoby Cofield, an undrafted rookie out of Duke, said. "It's like an audition or like another job interview each and every time you get in there. So this being the last one, so to speak, you try to leave a good impression in everybody's minds that may be watching you."
REDSKINS ON TV: Don't forget to catch all the action between the Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet!