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Keys To The Game: How Washington Will Approach Its First Preseason Game

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Jamin Davis, Cole Holcomb, Jon Bostic and Khaleke Hudson go through warmup before practice at FedExField. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.

The Washington Football Team is kicking off the preseason with a road trip to face Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Here are three keys to Thursday's matchup, presented by Van Metre.

1. Seeing how the quarterbacks perform

Ron Rivera and his coaches have seen plenty of snaps from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke. Even Steven Montez has gotten extended reps due to Kyle Allen nursing an ankle injury. Going against a new defense will tell a lot about where they all are in their development and comprehension of the scheme.

But the biggest thing Rivera is looking for out of his signal-callers: rhythm.

"Getting in and out of the huddle on time, control of the huddle calls and then his cadence, control of his cadence on the line of scrimmage. Is he going through the checks, the processes he needs to?"

The game plan, Rivera said after Tuesday's practice, is going to be basic. The offense isn't going to run any overly complex plays, and rightly so. But the quarterbacks can show they're competent leaders of the unit through communicating with their teammates and delivering accurate passes. To Rivera, it's about spreading the ball around properly and using all the team's assets.

Washington didn't have preseason games to evaluate the quarterbacks last year. This year, seeing how they perform with different competition will give the team a better idea of where the position stands.

2. Consistency and meshing together

There's a lot of things Rivera said he missed out on last year by not having any preseason games, namely how each unit meshes together. Working in cohesion during practice, when most situations are scripted, is certainly a positive, but a better test is seeing if that holds up in game atmospheres.

"I'm concerned with going out there and playing hard and doing things the right way first and foremost," Rivera said.

Every position has its own specialized details. Obviously the quarterback has his decision-making to worry about, but the offensive line needs to handle blitzes as a group. The secondary should be concerned with using proper leverage. If the secondary is trying to funnel everything inside, each defensive back needs to keep that in mind.

That results in consistency, which is another component Rivera values in preseason games. The offense needs to stack together quality drives, while the defense needs to keep giving the ball back to the offense. Achieving that is much easier if the players are working towards that goal together.

"We're doing the little things right." Rivera said. "That, more so than anything else, I think is important."

3. A big test for the rookies

Four of Washington's 10-player rookie class have gotten a considerable dose of playing time with the starting offense and defense. Two of them -- Sam Cosmi and Jamin Davis -- have operated through training camp as starters. Cosmi, Davis and the other first-year players have steadily improved over the past three weeks.

Thursday will show the team just how much they've grown.

Cosmi, who has regularly faced off against Chase Young and Montez Sweat, will go against a defensive front that was not nearly as potent as that of Washington in 2020 (the Patriots were tied for 26th with 24 total sacks). On defense, Davis will see talented players like tight end Jonnu Smith as well as quarterbacks Cam Newton and Mac Jones.

But that only mentions a fraction of Washington's rookie class. Players like Dyami Brown will show their progress as an intermediate threat, while Benjamin St-Juste will put his physicality to the test against another receiving corps. The game also gives an opportunity for rookies at the bottom of the roster, such as Dax Milne and Shaka Toney, to possibly climb up the depth chart.

There's still plenty of training camp left to go, but how the rookies play in their first real taste of an NFL game will give the coaches a better idea of how to evaluate them.

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