Win or lose, the NFL preseason is all about getting repetitions. So the Washington Redskins’ 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 2 may not be an indicator of the team’s future success this season, it did give the team a chance to showcase some young players in need of experience.

A fruitful off-season has virtually set Washington’s starting roster.  With a few backup roles up for grabs, the AFRO goes three downs to find out the positions that remain question marks as the club gears up for the opening game against longtime rival and last season’s NFC East division winners, the Dallas Cowboys.

First Down: Wide Receiver

2008 second-round draft picks Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas have done little in their two-year careers to establish themselves as long-term solutions at this position. Most scouts view a receiver’s third year as the barometer of whether or not he can truly succeed in the NFL. With Kelly out for the season with a hamstring injury and new quarterback Donovan McNabb now rifling passes for the burgundy and gold, this season would be ideal for Thomas to step up and fulfill his potential. If Thomas fails to perform, up-and-comers Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin could be in line for larger roles.

Second Down: Defensive Line

When it comes to the 3-4 defense, a team can never have enough beefy bodies. Washington’s new defensive alignment has a number of girth-gifted players in the rotation, but it’s still unclear who will step up. Newly acquired nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu missed last season with an Achilles’ tendon injury and the team’s most talented lineman, Albert Haynesworth, has barely played any reps with the first team due to injuries and contract disputes.

However, Haynesworth did play 49 of the team’s 55 defensive snaps in the finale against Arizona at both the nose tackle and defensive end positions. If the club’s defense is going to be effective this season, the play of both Haynesworth and Kemoeatu will be critical.

Third Down: Offensive Line

The last question mark could be the team’s biggest strength by the end of the season. Washington addressed a weak position by acquiring Trent Williams through the NFL draft, and Jammal Brown through a trade with the New Orleans Saints to shore up the front line. Washington also signed guard Artis Hicks, who will be expected to start in the wake of lineman Mike Williams’ bout with blood clots.

The talent on the unit is fine, but the new faces will have to come together quickly to be able to handle the pass rushes of the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles and Cowboys finished third and seventh in the league last year in team sacks. Playing their division rivals six times this season, ncluding the New York Giants who have a bevy of capable pass rushers, will put a lot of pressure on the new personnel of this unit.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO