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Big Picture: 4 lessons learned from Redskins preseason debut

Big Picture: 4 lessons learned from Redskins preseason debut

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When the Redskins departed Gilette Stadium Thursday night after opening the 2018 preseason with a 26-17 loss to the Patriots, injuries dominated the conversation. 

Will Derrius Guice be ok?

That's what fans want to know most. 

That answer will come from an MRI exam on Friday, but plenty of information is available from the game against the Patriots.

1. On the Move

For two weeks at training camp in Richmond, it's become apparent that the Redskins offense will feature more movement from the quarterback position.

The design aims to take advantage of Alex Smith's mobility, and even without Smith playing Thursday night, the results looked good. Colt McCoy can move inside and outside of the pocket, and did a good job of that in New England.

His numbers (13/18, 189 yards and 2 TDs) might be a bit inflated by the Patriots deploying a vanilla defensive set, but small portions of a West Coast passing game infused with some spread concepts were on display.

2. Here to Stay

The Redskins will need to make tough decisions when the roster eventually gets trimmed from 90 players down to 53. The decision with Maurice Harris, however, will be simple.

After Jamison Crowder, who didn't play in Foxborough, Harris has been the team's most consistent wideout in training camp. He showed Thursday his ability to get open and make plays, bringing in three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown. And don't forget Harris was primarily matched up against the Patriots top cornerback in Stephon Gilmore.

While Jay Gruden and company will have difficult choices cutting some good players at receiver, Harris won't be one of them.

He's on the team.

3. Holding 

Running back presents another roster battle with a lot of intrigue. Guice's first-quarter injury aside, Samaje Perine seems like one player truly fighting for his spot.

Byron Marshall made a few impressive plays early in the game, first on a blitz pickup and later on a nice catch-and-run for a touchdown.

When Perine entered the game, he played fine and had one nice 14-yard burst. But he also put the ball on the ground, something the Redskins staff doesn't tolerate. Perine got bailed out on the play by a forward progress call from the referees, which didn't allow Bill Belichick to challenge the play on the field.

As a rookie last season, Perine had some fumbling issues.

That's not a good habit to keep. 

4. Good Depth, and Wide Depth 

The Redskins rebuilt their defensive line this offseason, adding Daron Payne and Tim Settle in the draft.

On Thursday, Payne didn't play, and neither did 2017 first-round draft pick, Jonathan Allen. Settle did, and he looked good. Surprisingly athletic with a huge frame, Settle had a truly impressive second half in New England.

Sure, he was matched up against third and fourth string players, but Settle himself is a fifth-round pick.

If he can continue to show that type of effort and strength, the future looks very bright.


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Ron Rivera: Alex Smith must be able to 'protect himself' before he can return to football

Ron Rivera: Alex Smith must be able to 'protect himself' before he can return to football

Earlier this month, ESPN released the 'Project 11' documentary, which gave viewers an inside look at all the obstacles and adversity Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has had to overcome since he suffered a life-threatening leg injury in November of 2018.

Despite undergoing 17 surgeries and nearly needing to have his leg amputated, Smith explained during the documentary that his end goal is still to play football once again. The quarterback also told the same to local media at the Redskins locker room cleanout in December. Stephania Bell, the lead reporter for the film, also said she wouldn't be surprised if Smith played again.

Ron Rivera was asked about Smith's recovery on Tuesday, and the new Redskins head coach explained one thing that has to happen in order for Smith's goal to become a reality.

"The one thing that he and I talked about, more than anything else, is he's got to be able to protect himself out on the football field before anything can happen, before we can allow him back on the field," Rivera told NBC Sports' Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live.

Earlier this offseason, Rivera told ESPN980 that he didn't "want to forget Alex Smith" in a potential quarterback competition come the fall. 

"Here’s a guy that’s doing everything he can to come back, and if Alex can come back and be the player that he was we have a good situation, we have competition at that position," Rivera said in January.

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The head coach explained on Tuesday that he hopes by the end of training camp, he'll know whether or not Smith is able to play.

"We'll see. You just never know," Rivera said. "We'll find out hopefully sometime in late August."

Project 11 concluded with footage of Smith going through on-field workouts and throwing the football. While he certainly didn't look game-ready, the quarterback has come a long way from where he was just a few months prior, when he was spotted at Redskins practices helping the quarterbacks any way he could from the sideline.

After seeing everything that the quarterback has gone through over the past 18 months, it may be hard to imagine Smith ever playing in the NFL again. But Rivera has learned not to count the quarterback out on a potential return.

"In getting to know who he is, I don't doubt him," Rivera said. 

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Redskins projected to be near the bottom of the NFL in 2020, according to an advanced metric

Redskins projected to be near the bottom of the NFL in 2020, according to an advanced metric

Some believe the phrase "numbers never lie" has plenty of truth to it. If that is the case, an advanced metric's simulation of the Redskins' 2020 season has made one thing clear: it could be a very, very long year once again in Washington. 

On Tuesday, Seth Walder of ESPN released projections for all 32 NFL teams based on ESPN's Football Power Index. The model takes into account the team's results from last season, changes to the roster and coaching staff in the offseason, Las Vegas win totals, quarterbacks and more. For accuracy, the simulation was run 20,000 times.

The good thing about the NFL is that no matter how a team looks on paper, it's the play on the field that dictates the results. Numbers have become increasingly more accurate, but wild twists can happen any given Sunday.

That trend is especially good for the Redskins entering the 2020 season because on paper the numbers look bleak.

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ESPN has the Redskins' win total sitting around 5.5 games and only gives the team a 6% chance of making the playoffs. For perspective, that ranks 31st in the league and only the Jacksonville Jaguars are below Washington.

Even after all the changes made in the offseason as the Redskins and Ron Rivera look to rebuild the culture, FPI believes Washington will land right back where they were at the end of 2019. As the projected second-worst team, the No. 2 overall pick would once again be theirs. There is also a 13% chance that Washington picks first overall in 2021.

One of FPI's major factors it accounts for is quarterback play, and while Dwayne Haskins could easily prove the doubters wrong in 2020, the projections don't see him as a major factor in shifting the trends of the season. That is fair based on Haskins' total package of work in 2019, but the quarterback has the potential to change the perception surrounding him this upcoming season. 

Things look to be changing for the Redskins in a positive way, but a turnaround doesn't happen overnight. Despite solid roster and coaching staff additions, 2020 will still be a year filled with growing pains for the franchise. The numbers and projections support that, and while play on the field can shift the outcomes it still will be an uphill battle back to contention.

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