- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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With just about every starter out for Thursday's preseason finale at 7:30 p.m. ET at Tampa Bay, is there much reason to be interested in this game? The biggest part of the night will be an examination of Robert Griffin III's right knee. If they televised that, it might draw higher ratings than the game. But they are going to play and we're going to watch, and this is what needs to be monitored:
How Brandon Meriweather looks. The Redskins need Meriweather to look like he’s ready to play a game and, thus far, they have not been convinced that is the case in practice. Every game he played last season, whether it was in the preseason or the one game against Philadelphia during the regular season, Meriweather made plays. There were breakups, hits and turnovers. If he’s not around the ball a lot; if he’s not making plays; then Meriweather might still be affected by his December ACL surgery.
Many happy returns? The Redskins could use another game with many punts, just to give them a better idea on certain players, such as rookie Chris Thompson. Two weeks ago he looked bad fielding punts; last week he did not -- he was patient and knows how to set up blocks. But those two fumbles from scrimmage loom large, as does his inexperience. Josh Morgan might get a surprise shot here, coach Mike Shanahan said Tuesday. But Morgan was a good punt returner at Virginia Tech, though he’s returned just one in the NFL. Skye Dawson has returned punts throughout the preseason and has done well since two bad returns in the opener (fumble, bad decision). Hard to imagine he’s done enough to warrant a roster spot.
Pat White. He’ll start and play the whole game, capping a summer of terrific opportunities. Thanks to Robert Griffin III’s knee, White received more time than he ordinarily would have as a fourth quarterback. It enabled him to showcase more of what he could do. Could he earn a spot here? Only as a fourth quarterback, and that seems like a big stretch. The Redskins are convinced he’ll be on someone’s roster -- is that legit or an attempt to possibly drum up trade interest (slight long shot). White is not close to where the others on the Redskins are as a quarterback. He has improved, but all he’s shown thus far is an ability to run (already known) and that he can hit the slant/dig route. He needs to show he can go through a progression; that he can consistently hit the out routes. White has definitely improved since we first saw him in spring workouts (when he looked like someone who should not even be invited to camp). He deserves a lot of credit, and I could see another team wanting him as a developmental No. 3. With two young quarterbacks already, the Redskins don’t need such a player, unless they already anticipate trading Kirk Cousins in the offseason (though how could you know that already; what if something happens to Griffin once again?) and want to groom another backup.
Secondary issues. At least those not named Meriweather. Josh Wilson will play, one of the few projected starters who will appear in the game (tight end Fred Davis was not yet scheduled to have the night off as of Tuesday; that's surprising, so we'll see if he actually plays or not). Wilson is coming off shoulder surgery and needs the work. Is there any way he loses his starting job? I can’t go there yet, because rookie David Amerson is still clearly learning lessons. But I can’t imagine Wilson has a stronghold on the position either. Why should he? Two guys to watch are cornerback Jerome Murphy and safety Jose Gumbs. Murphy has been a special teams standout, and fared well in limited time from scrimmage; he had a good camp, too. Gumbs is a hitter learning to play free safety. This is, perhaps, the most jumbled of all the positions because they also have Jordan Pugh and DeJon Gomes. Tough to see both making the roster, but it really could depend on the Bucs game.
Who has the big finale? There are players who can change their fate with a big showing in the final preseason game. A year ago Brandon Banks had 156 total yards against Tampa Bay -- 90 from scrimmage; 66 on punt returns -- to clinch a roster spot. Maybe he already had earned one, but this made it definite. Linebacker Robert Henson had a terrific final game in 2009 to jump ahead of fellow rookie linebacker Cody Glenn and earn a spot. A year later Henson lost his opportunity when he blew out his knee in the preseason finale. Who will have that sort of game Thursday night?
Running back battle. My best guess is that the Redskins keep four running backs, in addition to fullback Darrel Young. In that scenario Thompson makes it with Keiland Williams and Evan Royster vying for the final spot. Right now, I’d give Williams the edge. Rookie Jawan Jamison hasn’t done a whole lot this summer and appears to be a good candidate for the practice squad. And if they somehow lost him, oh well.
Receiver questions. Do they keep a sixth receiver? If so, would someone else other than Dez Briscoe be in that battle? Hard to imagine based on what we’ve seen in games and practice. Lance Lewis has a long way to go to be ready to make an NFL roster, and Dawson and Nick Williams both are more suited to the practice squad. What if Leonard Hankerson has a big game? Could he unseat Morgan as the Z receiver? I’d like to see a lot more consistency from Hankerson to make that happen. Morgan makes the tough catches that Hankerson has yet to prove he can make (not the one-handers, but the grabs over the middle when you’re about to be drilled).