The past couple of weeks have felt awfully familiar around Redskins Park. Controversy has been swirling around the team’s polarizing quarterback. There's hand-wringing, both inside and outside the organization, over the offense's continued struggles. A depth chart that couldn't really afford to lose anyone to injury has absorbed a few body blows.
Indeed, the Redskins already have a lot to overcome. And it’s just the third week of the preseason.
Their next chance to quiet some the noise and build some much-needed confidence and momentum comes Saturday night when Robert Griffin III and Co. face Terrell Suggs and the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Redskins Kickoff begins at 6:30 on CSN, the game kicks off on our air at 7:30 and then Redskins Postgame Live gets underway at 10:30.
Here are Tarik’s five areas to watch:
1-Griffin, of course. Does the fourth-year quarterback need a strong performance to cement his starting spot? Or will he be the Week 1 starter regardless of what happens in the dress rehearsal? No one outside of the inner circle at Redskins Park seems to know the answer. But we do know this: the starting offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in the preseason during the Jay Gruden era. If that drought continues, expect the hand-wringing to turn into panic. Remember what happened a year ago in this game? In retrospect, it was a sign of the struggles to come.
2-The offensive line. Last week, Griffin got hit six times by the Lions and was sacked three times before he was forced from the game with a shoulder stinger and concussion. The good news is three-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams will return to the lineup to help protect Griffin’s blindside. The bad news is the young right side of the line—and first round draft pick Brandon Scherff in particular—looks as though it could be a concern, at least early on this season. And, oh yeah, the unit will be asked to keep Suggs and Elvis Dumervil out of the backfield Saturday night. Those two accounted for 29 sacks last season. For comparison’s sake, the entire Redskins' defense had 36.
3-Jamison Crowder’s debut. After missing the first two exhibition games with a hamstring strain, we’re expected to get our first good look at the 5 foot 8, 185-pound rookie. The Duke product opened eyes during OTAs and minicamp with his ability to create separation as a wide receiver and leave opponents grasping at air as a punt returner. Could the pint-sized playmaker become the Redskins’ secret weapon in 2015? Gruden certainly hopes so.
4-The battle at outside linebacker. This was supposed to be the week that Ryan Kerrigan and Junior Galette joined forces and began wreaking havoc. That’s not going to happen; Galette became the fifth Redskins’ player to suffer a season-ending injury this preseason when he tore his Achilles’ tendon in practice Wednesday. But the injury also gives Preston Smith and Trent Murphy a second chance to prove they’re ready to contribute. Murphy has the edge in experience and has enjoyed a strong summer. Smith, however, has come on strong in practice lately as the game slows down for the rookie. Galette’s injury also opens a spot on the roster for training camp hopefuls Jackson Jeffcoat (two sacks in the preseason) and Houston Bates (three sacks).
5-Tight end. Jordan Reed is expected to make his preseason debut after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. Even if he doesn’t play a whole lot, it will be good to see a healthy Reed back on the field. We also figure to get a look at the new guy, Derek Carrier, who said he hopes to contribute this season as a pass-catcher, blocker and special teams player. The challenge for Carrier, of course, will be his comfort level with the playbook. The Redskins kept three tight ends last season, which means the battle for that final spot will intensify between Je’Ron Hamm, Chase Dixon, Devin Mahina, D.J. Williams and Ernst Brun Jr. Based on play-time in the previous two games, Hamm and Dixon appear to be the leading candidates.