Redskins

Redskins

Through three preseason games, Alex Smith has played just 34 snaps of football as the Redskins' starting quarterback. That's the same amount of snaps as Bills QB A.J. McCarron and Eagles QB Joe Callahan. Those two aren't exactly household names.

As for Smith and the Redskins, head coach Jay Gruden made clear that his priority was to get through the preseason without injuries, focused on Week 1 against the Cardinals.

That meant not much playing time for Smith, even in the third preseason game. Smith threw just eight passes in that game, and completed only three. 

"It’s just a matter of what I feel is best for this football team and I feel like the most important thing for us right now is getting to Arizona healthy," the coach said. "Every time you take a snap in a pro football game there’s certain risks involved."

For all the consternation about Smith's unproductive preseason - he's thrown 14 passes and completed seven without a TD or an INT - his situation isn't that unique. The Cowboys' Dak Prescott only played 39 snaps this preseason, same as Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky. Marcus Mariota only played 40 snaps, while Matt Ryan logged just 45 snaps. 

Around the NFL, there is a growing trend of keeping starting quarterbacks safe on the bench. In fact, Rams head coach Sean McVay is yet to play his starting QB Jared Goff this preseason. Not a single snap. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have hardly played this preseason. 

 

Of course, there is an argument that Smith is a new passer in a new system surrounded by new players and needs the work. Gruden knows that argument exists, but points out that the team on the field in the preseason isn't exactly indicative of the group Smith will be playing with in the regular season.

"Some of the guys like Jordan [Reed] and Jamison [Crowder]; they missed quite a bit of time. Chris [Thompson] has been getting a lot of work running and all that and I don’t feel too worried about him. You are talking about your key weapons not getting a lot of playing time and that’s a little bit concerning, but since it is Jordan and Jamison, both are very quarterback friendly and I think Alex [Smith] will adapt fine."

Smith knows he hasn't played much, but admits he's also looking ahead. 

"The proof will be in the pudding for us. We’ve got to be ready to roll come September 9th," the QB said. "For me, I feel like that’s been the focus since we’ve started way back in April. That’s all we’ve been talking about since the schedule came out."

Players don't talk about the preseason. Half the team probably doesn't even realize the preseason opponent until 24 hours before kickoff. Coaches don't game plan for the preseason.

Still, some teams get much more work in the August exhibitions. 

Blake Bortles has taken nearly 100 snaps this preseason. Andrew Luck, returning from injury for the first time in two years, has played 71 snaps. Remember Kirk Cousins? He's been on the field for 69 snaps for Minnesota this preseason. Jimmy Garoppolo's taken 76 snaps for the 49ers, and some guy named Tom Brady has logged 68 snaps in New England. 

Clearly, some coaches do not agree with Gruden about protecting players from injury in the preseason. 

Does Gruden have particular reason to worry? The Redskins suffered a dramatic amount of injuries last season, and rookie RB Derrius Guice went down for the year in the preseason opener. The Redskins coach has been bitten, hard, by the injury bug. 

The paradox, however, is that Gruden teams also are notoriously slow starters. The head coach doesn't like the stat, but it remains true: Gruden is 0-4 in season openers. 

It's a little bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Are the Redskins bad in openers because they don't play their starters much in preseason? Or would the Redskins be much worse of if they suffered more injuries in the preseason?

"I think you could make an argument either way," Gruden said. "On talk radio, I could argue one side, or argue the other."

 

Thanks for the clarification, coach.

The reality in Washington is fans and talk radio won't know if Gruden took the right approach until the team is flying back from Arizona.

Win the game, and likely everybody will be cool with the preseason procedure. 

Lose the game, and it will be a long flight. Not only will Gruden have dropped to 0-5 in openers, but the questions will mount about not using the preseason to get Smith acclimated with his new offense. 

Winning the game sounds like a much better option, and maybe that's why Gruden, Smith and the Redskins seem focused on that instead of the preseason. 

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