Redskins: Morning wake-up call

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
8:08
AM ET
A longer one today, but that’s because it’s finally game day (albeit a preseason one). So when the Redskins play at Tennessee at 8 p.m. ET tonight, here’s what I’m most interested to see:

1. The rookie defensive backs. Corner David Amerson and strong safety Phillip Thomas will start because of injuries while free safety Bacarri Rambo continues in the starter’s role, as he has all camp. They consider themselves the future, but how many are capable of being the present as well? It’s one thing to look good in practice against an offense and players you’re used to seeing. Can they do it in a game? Along with this group, I’ll add corner Chase Minnifield, a first-year player who missed last season with a torn ACL. If he plays well and stays healthy this summer it could force the Redskins to keep six corners.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/Steve HelberWith Robert Griffin III's status for Week 1 up in the air, the Redskins need to see improvement from backup Kirk Cousins.
2. How Kirk Cousins plays. Again, I’ll have more Thursday afternoon on how he’s changed over the past year, but with Robert Griffin III’s health in question for the opener, Cousins needs to show progress in the preseason. He’s more prone to turnovers than Griffin, but Cousins’ mindset as a passer will often result in big plays too. Cousins will play between 10 to 15 snaps with the first team only. If nothing else, his steady improvement -- even in preseason games -- will increase his trade value down the road. But the Redskins need him better now (and think that he is) because of Griffin’s situation.

3. Will they run any zone read? They didn’t do so in the preseason last year because it was new. Now everyone knows they’ll run it -- and keep running it -- and they’ve discussed Cousins running it as well. He looks comfortable with the footwork and timing of it in practice. The best, though, is when pocket passer Rex Grossman runs it in practice. If the NFL wants fans to enjoy the preseason they should request Grossman run it once in a game, just for kicks.

4. Defensive end Chris Baker. With Jarvis Jenkins out for the first four games Baker needs to show he can provide early depth or possibly even start. Veteran Kedric Golston, the likely starter in place of Jenkins, is a known commodity at this position. Baker is not. He’s still adapting to this spot, though he has looked more comfortable here compared to early in camp. Is he occupying blockers? It’s the first requirement of this job. Can he get upfield in the pass rush? Baker loves getting upfield, though for an end in the 3-4 that’s not always what the coaches want.

5. Receiver Aldrick Robinson. He’s had a good start to camp, with only one day where he really struggled, dropping three passes and fighting the ball with his hands. However, Robinson must prove he can handle a blocking role, too. In the stretch zone scheme, that’s a must for a receiver and an area he struggled in mightily last season.

6. Left tackle Tom Compton. With Trent Williams practicing in a hard cast to protect a sprained left wrist, Compton is expected to work with the starters. The second-year tackle, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, is still in the development stage. He struggled last year with counter moves, in part because he lacked the power to knock rushers off their original path. Coaches said he got stronger, but that’s been an issue in this camp too. He obviously won’t be needed as a starter, unless something happens to Williams, but he does need to show he can be a quality backup.

7. Offensive right tackles Tyler Polumbus, Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood. It’s Polumbus’ job and he’s looked more consistent in camp than the other two, but he still has to prove he can pass protect better than last season. Pashos is shedding bad habits and rust -- picked up first while playing with a torn tendon in his foot all of 2011 and then by having to sit out last season. Trueblood, benched last year in Tampa, has struggled.

8. Roy Helu. If healthy he should be the third-down back because of his speed and big-play ability. Durability is the main issue. He’s looked good picking up blitzes in camp -- will that continue in the games? We already know Alfred Morris is the starter, but Helu’s return after missing most of last season with turf toe should help the offense.

9. The pass rush. A big problem last season and an area that should be helped by the return of linebacker Brian Orakpo. They will be creative in getting three and sometimes four pass-rushing outside linebackers on the field. But it’s doubtful they’ll show much of that in the preseason. The Redskins need to get pressure from a four-man rush much more than last season, and not always through creative disguises.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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