Unlike last week, all the starters will play -- and possibly quite a bit -- in what’s expected to be their final action for the preseason. The Redskins typically do not play their starters in the preseason finale. That’s why they’ve treated this as a dress rehearsal, from how the week was structured to the preparation. That doesn’t mean they’ve game-planned as if it were the regular season in terms of what plays they’ll run, but they did watch film of Buffalo.
“We want quality looks and quality work,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “A lot was said about them not getting enough work [last week] but this is an opportunity to get some good reps and some drives and stay on the field to see what kind of shape they’re in. Really, it’s about going through the whole game, the week of preparation, starting fast and finishing healthy.”
Here are some things to watch:
A crisp operation: The Redskins’ offense will mostly be healthy Friday, with the exception of starting back Matt Jones. That shouldn’t derail them, so there’s no reason they can’t look sharp during their [expected] one half of action. The full starting unit has only played one series in the preseason, so it would be helpful for them to have some success. The running game looked better in the second preseason game than the first and that must continue. The line and blocking overall -- tight ends, receivers -- improved and that led to better holes. But it would be nice, too, for the passing game to develop a rhythm. The key is emerging healthy, of course, but it also would be good to see quarterback Kirk Cousins attempt passes longer than 10-15 yards.
Running backs: Pass protection will be vital vs. the Bills, not just to keep the quarterback upright but because of their style of defense. The Bills like to blitz and will do so from all over, testing a running back’s ability to handle the pressure. And considering the Redskins have two rookie backs who will play a lot Friday -- Rob Kelley and Keith Marshall -- they must show they can do the job well. If not, the Redskins will have to look hard at veteran backs, either a Pierre Thomas (unsigned) or someone who gets cut next week. Both Marshall and Kelley have done OK here, but the Bills should present a tougher challenge.
Defensive line: Undrafted rookie Anthony Lanier has become a player to watch, but it could still be hard to win a roster spot because there is depth up front. It’s hard to see whose spot he might take. Rookie Matt Ioannidis is not a lock, but he’s also a fifth-round pick whom they see as a rotational nose tackle/end in the future (hard to see him being active on game days this season when all are healthy). But if Lanier plays well vs. the Bills, it would make the decision that much tougher.
Inside linebacker: One of the more interesting positions to watch in final cuts will be here. Several people in the organization have acknowledged that they’re going to lose a deserving player. Perry Riley has started and they liked how he developed last season, but when he got hurt, they liked how Mason Foster played. If Riley doesn’t win the starting job, would they keep him at a $5 million cap hit? Or would they cut someone such as Terence Garvin, more of a special-teamer (and someone they’ve used to rush from the outside in certain packages)?
Building on last week: Receiver Rashad Ross rebounded from an inconsistent camp, and preseason opener, with a strong game vs. the Jets. He must build on that success to solidify a roster spot. Slot corner Dashaun Phillips continues to play well as he competes with rookie third-round pick Kendall Fuller for the job. Another strong game could clinch this position for Phillips. Safety Deshazor Everett made plays last week, both on special teams and from scrimmage. The Redskins likely will keep just four safeties and those ahead of him include starters DeAngelo Hall, David Bruton and backups Will Blackmon and Duke Ihenacho. But another strong game would help Everett’s case – he was excellent on special teams last season, too.
Starting competition: Spencer Long continues to work with the starters at left guard ahead of Shawn Lauvao as he returns from last season's ankle injury and multiple surgeries on both feet. This will be a good test for both players.
Backup offensive linemen: With the trade for center Bryan Stork, it will be difficult for others to make the roster, specifically Josh LeRibeus (whom I thought would have a hard time making it anyway) and Austin Reiter. I elevated Reiter to the ninth spot on a nine-man line before the trade, but it would seem the only way he gets there now is if there’s somehow a surprise cut. Reiter looked good in the opener but struggled in the second game.