Preseason action starts Thursday night in New England as the Redskins take on the Patriots. Full coverage begins on NBC Sports Washington at 6 p.m.!

Coaches say lots of things headed into the preseason. They want to see young players develop and position battles play out. One thing stands out at the absolute top of the list, and probably the top three spots.

  2. No Injuries
  3. no injuries

After that there are things that matter. Let's take a look:

  • By the fourth quarter of the first preseason game, coaches want to see clean football and the game clock expire. So many penalty flags hit the ground late in the game that coaches just grow annoyed, with both mental mistakes by players and referees. Remember that NFL refs are working in new rules, and just like the players, are getting their first experience of the new season.

After all that — the prayers for injury free football and the hopes of games ending in under four hours — comes the real football stuff.

  • Coaches watch and re-watch practice, every day. Ultimately, however, practice is a controlled environment and games are just the opposite. How does a receiver react when the play breaks down? Does a defensive lineman give up a on a play downfield, or keep working? Has the young tight end really learned how to throw a chip block and still release into a route? Is a rookie defensive back ready for the speed and complexity of NFL offenses? All that stuff matters and starts to come into shape in the preseason.

Specifically, Jay Gruden will be watching some positions more than others, especially where there are young players competing for roster spots. 

  • The running back spot has two certainties in Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson. Rob Kelley is 99 percent certain. After that, what Samaje Perine, Byron Marshall and Kapri Bibbs show in the preseason will matter greatly if Washington decides to keep four RBs. 
  • The receiver position is similar. Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson are locks. Beyond that, Maurice Harris and Trey Quinn seem ahead of the other competition from Brian Quick and Robert Davis, but special teams will matter greatly among those four players. Who can do what, and do it well, will make a big impact on if the Redskins keep five or six wideouts. 
  • For some players, it's just about showing that the shiny practice film isn't a fluke. Danny Johnson and Kenny Ladler have impressed in Richmond. Can they keep that up in real game action? Can Phil Taylor make it through his first preseason game after missing the last three years of regular season action? Shaun Dion Hamilton is a rookie coming off a major injury, will the knee hold up? There are plenty more players coming off injury, or with injury questions. That's just a small sample of what the coaches will be watching. 

The truth is this game offers much more of an opportunity for players on the bottom half of the Redskins current 90-man roster. Alex Smith and the starting offense will play a series, at most. The defense will be out there for a similar time. 

For coaches, scouts and players trying to determine the final 53, however, the real action starts when those players come off the field. 


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