LANDOVER,Md - And so the Redskins first preseason game is in the books, with the team defeating the Steelers 16-7 on Friday night.
As is always the case in preseason, the score of the game obviously means a whole lot less than the execution seen in the game.
That being said, the team played relatively well given the fact that there wasn't much time for them and their bevy of new players to get ready. They have several new starters on both sides of the ball and only had two weeks in camp to practice (without tackling) and get used to one another, and they wound up faring pretty well.
Here are some from the takeaways from Friday's preseason opener:
Rex Grossman: Have to start with the obvious. Grossman made his case for the starting job by going 19 of 26 for 207 yards and a touchdown. He ran the offense with good tempo and seemed to be in rhythm with his receivers. He did a good job of getting to the line of scrimmage with around 15 seconds left on the playclock, which is a major improvement over a year ago. He still had a few throws that were Grossman-esque, but overall he had a very good outing. Mike Shanahan also seemed encouraged by Grossman's performance after the game, but still didn't want to anoint him the starter for Week 1.
"I thought Rex had a good game. I thought he played well. I thought he managed the game well."
A pretty measured response from Shanahan. It's clear next week's game against Indy will be a huge one for Grossman and his co-competitor John Beck, who is expected to be healthy enough to play.
Tim Hightower: His statline says 10 carries for 44 yards and 4.4 yard per carry average. But that doesn't tell the story for Hightower's performance Friday night. It's clear that his running style fits the zone blocking scheme, as his ability to plant his foot in the ground and make decisive cuts was evident time and time again.
Hightower is a violent runner, and clearly doesn't mind getting physical with opposing defenders when it's warranted. Not only that, but Hightower's ability to pick up the blitz was key, being able to stone oncoming linebackers giving Rex Grossman the time he needed. His ability to pick up the blitz alone makes him at the very least a servicable third down back. But with the way he ran tonight in addition to his blocking, he's making a case for being the opening day starter.
"I love it man," Hightower said. "I love this system, and I feel like I'm right where I need to be."
As for Mike Shanahan, he didn't seem surprised by Hightower's performance.
"I felt very good about Hightower when we traded for him. He didn't disappoint me today," Shanahan said. "He's a strong runner. I thought he had an excellent game for the first game, getting used to the system."
They key for Hightower moving forward will be his ability to hold on to the ball, as his fumbling issues have already shown to be rearing it's ugly head in training camp practice. If he can take care of the ball, he could be a big time contributor this season.
Brandon Banks: There was plenty of doubt about whether or not Banks would be able to make the team in the early going of training camp, even after having a stellar rookie year a year ago that saw him emerge as one of the better return specialists in the league.
Banks has said all along during camp that the doubters motivate him, and tonight he proved it. He had an impressive 19 yard punt return where he made several cuts to his left and allowed his blocks to develop, giving him more space to maneuver. And then he later made a statement when he broke a 58 yard kickoff return that for a brief moment looked like it could go the distance, and that was despite the new rules that push kickoffs further back.
For those who wrote Banks off prior to this game (and I was one of them) , it may be time to perhaps change who you think will wind up on the wide receiver depth chart come Week 1.
"He's got the ability," Shanahan said. "[If] he breaks one tackle and he's got the ability to go the distance."
The defensive front seven: The Redskins clearly focused on upgrading their front seven from the unit that struggled mightily a year ago. And though this game gave us a very small sample size, they didn't disappoint.
To put it simply, the defensive line rotation of Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins, Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker is light years ahead of what the team had this time last year. Cofield was able to get into the backfield several times, disrupting several runs and getting his hands on the quarterback, something that Redskins nose tackles rarely did prior to his arrival.
Bowen was able to get himself a sack, and you could tell how much that energized the team. The linebackers especially were enthused, realizing that they have a chance to be more successful now that they potentially have a much more dynamic defensive line in place.
"I love them," linebacker Brian Orakpo said after the game. "Those guys are phenomenal. They are gong to push that pocket and make plays and, not only take just blocks up,they're going to get sacks, they're going to get pressures and the showed that tonight."
Struggles of the starting secondary: And as good as the front seven played, let's just say that the secondary didn't have it's best night. While the first team defense was in, DeAngelo Hall got beat twice along the sideline, with overthrown passes baling him out each time. On another play the other starter at cornerback, Josh Wilson, who was also one of the Redskins biggest offseason pickups, there was clearly some miscommunication as Wilson expected safety help over the top from Chris Horton, who was very late in getting over to help in coverage. Luckily for both of them, the pass was overthrown yet again. I know it's just preseason, but you don't want to see that early on, especially given the team's injury situation in their secondary.
The kicking competition: Not much to discuss here. Shayne Graham may have handed the job to Graham Gano by going 0-for-2 on 29 and 49 yard kicks.
Some rookies playing like rookies: Aldrick Robinson, the sixth round pick out of SMU, didn't exactly make the best impression on special teams. He muffed two punts well inside his own territory, but luckily was able to recover it each time. With the receiver competitiion being so stiff, Robinson's only shot to make the roster is to excel on special teams, and this wasn't a great start.
And then there's Leonard Hankerson. When you watch him, he's clearly someone who has all the physical tools to succeed in this league. He's a pretty solid route runner and found himself open quite a bit in the second half. The problem for him against the Steelers was the same problem he has had in practice: drops. He short-armed the first pass targeted to him and then later he flat out dropped an easy pass on a crossing route over the middle. Ironically, not only was the pass he eventually caught a tougher one to reel in, but it also led to him getting a bit shaken up on the play (though he eventually returned). It's hard not to get the sense that fans will be frustrated by Hankerson's drops as the season goes on.