In the past, the preseason's arrival has been met with, at best, tepid excitement and, at worst, long groans. But after missing out on it in 2020, and with where the Washington Football Team is trending, the Burgundy and Gold's opener vs. the Patriots on Thursday feels pretty momentous.
You can watch the game on NBC-4 and NBC Sports Washington at 7:30 p.m. And keep an eye on these three players in particular. It could be an especially important step toward them making Ron Rivera's roster.
Sims has looked more like the 2019 edition of himself than the 2020 edition so far at camp, which is quite encouraging for him. In 2019, he was an unpolished yet slippery offensive threat, but under Rivera in 2020, he was ineffective and much less dynamic.
A handful of positive practices won't be enough to win over his head coach, though, especially when the wide receiver depth chart is much more crowded than it was last year. Therefore, Sims must show out versus the Pats, and for him, that means securing every catch (drops have plagued him before) and making defenders miss on his way to large gains. Doing something as a punt returner would be enormously helpful, too.
Sims is limited on the outside; injuries will always be a worry thanks to his diminutive size, and that size means he doesn't contribute much as a blocker, either. However, as an undrafted rookie two campaigns ago, he was flat-out dangerous in the open field. Reminding Rivera of that fact in the exhibition opener is surely at the top of his mind.
Cosmi has rebounded after a rocky start to camp, which was to be expected. Though Cosmi's initial 1-on-1 and 11-on-11 reps were concerning, Brandon Scherff told reporters that when he was a rookie, he felt like his performance along the line picked up rapidly during his first camp as he experienced more, grew accustomed to the speed of NFL rushers and dove into his own film. Cosmi appears to be following along a similar path.
Now, instead of dealing with the likes of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, Cosmi should get some quality work against unfamiliar edge foes as he continues to try and lock up the starting right tackle gig.
Will his technique hold up in live action? Will he be able to adjust to a new set of opponents? And just how physical will he get in close quarters? Those are three primary things to watch as the second-rounder makes his quasi-debut on Thursday.
The inclusion of Barber may be confusing at first. After all, he averaged a tiny 2.7 yards per carry in 2020 and saw his longest attempt go for... seven yards. So, why pay attention to him?
Well, first off, he slimmed down this offseason, and to be honest, he has shown a bit more wiggle for Washington since the change. He's also displayed solid hands coming out of the backfield, and overall doesn't seem to be as plodding anymore.
Secondly, Barber needs to stave off Lamar Miller and likely soon-to-be-preseason-hero Jaret Patterson to remain on the club. Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic are major parts of the offense, but behind those two, there's a place up for grabs.
As long as Gibson and McKissic remain healthy, whoever captures that other spot won't be asked to do a ton in 2021. But if one of that pair goes down — remember, Gibson had a toe injury that limited him in the final stretch of last year — then that guy will be relied upon a good amount. Let's watch Barber to see if he's in better shape to potentially handle that responsibility.
Washington's preseason game against New England airs at 7:30 p.m. on NBC-4 and NBC Sports Washington. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Washington Football Kickoff Live on NBC Sports Washington.