Reporting Grant Paulsen
Wide receiver — Brandon Banks
Banks’ offseason began with head coach Mike Shanahan telling the third-year speedster that he needs to act more professionally and that he would have to make the Redskins’ roster as a wide receiver in 2012 after a two-year run solely on special teams. By all accounts Banks has responded to his meeting with Shanahan, showing up at Redskins Park stronger and in better condition than he did a year ago. He’s also had a banner training camp as a pass-catcher, where he’s consistently stood out in practices.
While Banks still needs to put together a productive preseason to earn his roster spot, he’s positioned himself well enough to enter tonight’s game a favorite to land one of Washington’s final two wide receiver spots. During Wednesday’s availability with the Redskins’ coaching staff, special teams coordinator Danny Smith said he plans on standing on the table in support of Banks. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard both said they “love” Banks. The support of that triumvirate of coaching minds can’t hinder his cause.
The diminutive wide-out has caught just three passes for 20 yards in two NFL seasons, which may have as much to do with limited playing time as it does missed opportunities. You’d think that Banks’ tiny frame (5-foot-7 and 153-pounds) would make beating bump coverage difficult, but the Kansas State product’s elite quickness and speed has allowed him to get off the line of scrimmage without many problems during practices. Hilliard is still working with Banks on how he uses his hands against corners who are pressing him at the line, a part of his game that will be worth monitoring against the Bills.
If Banks can make a big play on special teams or consistently get open at receiver, he’ll go a long way toward hammering down a roster spot for a third straight season.
Right guard — Adam Gettis
Gettis will be seeing his first NFL game-action in Buffalo and with Chris Chester still recovering from a sprained ankle, the rookie lineman will likely be debuting in the Redskins’ starting lineup.
While he isn’t a lock to make Washington’s 53-man roster just yet, the fact that the Iowa product is listed second on the depth chart at right guard bodes well for his battle to survive cut-down day. A strong showing against the Bills’ first-team defense would go a long way toward earning Gettis the support of the Redskins’ coaching staff.
An athletic 23 year-old who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 292-pounds, Gettis played in a zone blocking scheme at Iowa, which seems to have eased his transition to the NFL.
There will be many ways to evaluate Gettis’ debut. I’m not going to be looking for dominance as much as I am a penalty-free, assignment-sound effort that results in him not being noticed while he’s on the field. Does he refrain from false start penalties? (He got flagged for jumping early during training camp). Can he get through his playing time without missing any assignments and by picking up all of the proper defenders? If he’s able to, Gettis will likely view his inaugural NFL action as a success.
An impressive couple weeks of practice are only the beginning of the Illinois native’s audition. Gettis may not get another chance to play with and against starters this preseason. If he can perform well on tonight’s test, he’ll dramatically improve his standing on the roster going into week-two of the preseason.
Running back — Alfred Morris
Another 2012 draft pick who will be playing in his first game in burgundy and gold, Morris was chosen in the sixth round –173rd overall — this past April. A physical, bruising 220-pound rusher, Morris is shifty for his size and he’s shown some elusiveness and cutting ability in practices at Redskins Park over the past couple weeks.
Mike Shanahan regularly says that you just can’t properly evaluate tailbacks based on practices. It’s tough to tell when ball-carriers would have been brought to the ground in practices that don’t allow for tackling, and if you can’t tell how effective a back is at breaking tackles there’s no way to gauge what type of pro-player they have the chance to be.
If Morris’ strong start to training camp carries over to game action he could find himself in a fight for a roster spot. With Evan Royster and Roy Helu both slated to see action before him against the Bills, and Tim Hightower still ahead of him on the depth chart (when he returns to health), Morris is fighting an uphill battle to claim one of Washington’s 53 roster spots.
But a strong preseason could land him a practice squad gig, the same role Ryan Torain and Evan Royster carved out the past two summers before they went on to become focal points of the Redskins’ offense before the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons respectively.