Who: Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins
What: Game 2 of the preseason
When: Saturday night, 7 PM Eastern
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
The final score of a preseason game matters less than what happens before the final gun sounds. The Redskins demolished the hapless Buffalo Bills 42-17 last week, but the playoff-tested Baltimore Ravens will provide a much sterner test. The Redskins have major questions at wide receiver, running back, offensive line, defensive depth and the return game. Let's run down the major issues the Redskins are facing as they prepare to take on the Ravens tonight.
Jammal Brown - Washington's big right tackle is an elite talent who missed all of last season with a hip injury that led to labrum surgery. He's missed a lot of practice time due to soreness in that same hip and this is his first action of the preseason. The alternative to Brown is Stephon Heyer so it is critical for the Redskins that Brown go into the season healthy and stay that way. With a healthy Brown, the Redskins are solid on the right side of the line. Without him, it's 2009 all over again. We need to see Brown move well and prove that he's mastered the mental and physical obstacles to moving from the left to right side.
Larry Johnson - He hasn't looked like an elite running back since 2006, but the Redskins are counting on Johnson to be the backup running back who can take some carries from Clinton Portis without hurting the offense at all. Mike Shanahan does not want Portis to be a 25-carry-a-game back anymore and Johnson is critical to the success of that plan. He's looked good in training camp, but tonight is Johnson's best chance to demonstrate he can be a solid contributor in the new offense. Johnson doesn't have to be a superstar on this team, but he does need to play well for 10-15 carries a game.
Wide Receiver - Devin Thomas is showing definite signs of improvement, but consistency eludes him. He made big plays last week against the Bills, but he also dropped a pass that hit him right in the chest and he fumbled the opening kickoff. Thomas is currently third on the depth chart, which should be a bad joke, but the coaches are obviously just as suspicious of his lapses as they are intrigued by his talent and physical ability. Anthony Armstrong, second on the depth chart, caught a touchdown pass last week, but he has to produce every single week to stay ahead of the bigger names on the roster. It would be nice to see something from Joey Galloway, who is listed as a starter, but who is also, by football standards, two years older than Moses. Terrence Austin and Brandon Banks have both played well from scrimmage, but they need to do more on offense to justify spots on the roster. Most of all, the team just needs to see a second play-maker emerge at this position.
Albert Haynesworth - The big defensive lineman missed three consecutive practices due to complications from heat exhaustion, but he's expected to play. How often will he line up at nose tackle [second string behind starter Maake Kemoeatu] and at defensive end will be interesting, as will how much run he gets with the first team defense. Haynesworth clearly did not come to training camp in anything close to pro football shape and he needs to get into that shape well before the September 12 opener against Dallas. A strong performance tonight would send all the right signals.
Weak-side Linebacker - With three of the four starting linebacker jobs sewn up [ILBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh, as well as SLB Brian Orakpo], the competition is between Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander. Carter is running with the starters now and seems to have the edge, but the coaching staff loves Alexander and his size against the run. Carter is the superior pass rusher, but both players have struggled in coverage. Lorenzo could take that starting job with a dominating performance over the next few weeks and tonight is the time to start.
Secondary - With Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth racing around the field the starting unit will have its hands full. We've heard nothing, but good things about the defensive backfield during training camp, but the Bills did not offer much of a test. The Ravens will. Justin Tryon is languishing in 4th place on the depth chart and must start making plays. Kevin Barnes is now a second-stringer and looks pretty close to being a starter to me. We know the starters will be DeAngelo Hall, Carlos Rogers, Kareem Moore and Laron Landry, but the reserves are completely jumbled. Phillip Buchanon is almost certainly safe as the nickel back and Barnes looks like the 4th corner right now. Bryan Westbrook and Tryon must make their moves now.
Long Snapper - This has not been an area of concern for the Redskins for years, with Ethan Albright handling the duties perfectly for almost a decade. James Dearth was brought in because rookie Nick Sundberg has looked so awful in practice. Sundberg recovered with a perfect performance against Buffalo, but he's definitely on notice. A single mistake in a preseason game and Sundberg is probably unemployed. The same goes for Dearth. It's sudden death for both players.
Kick/Punt Returner - Devin Thomas was supposed to have this job, but he fumbled his first chance last week so the team will take a long look at rookie 7th round draft pick Terrence Austin. If he's going to make the team, Austin probably has to win the kick or punt returning jobs, or both. Brandon Banks returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown last week, but because of skepticism about his size, Banks must continue to make plays on special teams or he won't make the team.