5 Things to Watch: Redskins vs. Jets

WASHINGTON — The Redskins were sloppy last week in a 23-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. We’ll see tonight if they can regain their footing in a home preseason game against the New York Jets at FedEx Field. The regular season is still 25 days away, but here are five things to watch for during preseason game No. 2.

Preseason debuts

Tight end Jordan Reed (sprained left thumb) and wide receiver Jamison Crowder (hamstring) should play tonight against New York. Both sat against Atlanta last week. That will help a first-team offense that is likely again going to be without left tackle Trent Williams (sore right knee). He was limited in practice this week and Ty Nsekhe is expected to start. Let’s see if adding Crowder and Reed to the mix opens things up for the running game – even without Williams on the field. Washington needs to see more from Matt Jones and Chris Thompson to gain a little confidence in a rushing attack that was pedestrian last season, at best, and didn’t add an established back from outside the organization.

Position battles

The main fights are easy to keep track of: Nickel cornerback (Kendall Fuller vs. Dashaun Phillips), left guard (Shawn Lauvao vs. Spencer Long), inside linebacker (Mason Foster vs. Perry Riley) and strong safety (Duke Ihenacho vs. David Bruton).

The starters last week were Phillips, Long, Foster and Bruton. We’ll see if that continues or if the coaching staff lets the other four begin the game against the Jets’ first-team offense. Bruton has had the edge most of camp over Ihenacho. Foster and Riley have been more even since the latter came off the PUP list early in camp. Phillips has a slight edge at nickel corner, but Fuller has had plenty of chances to see the field with the first teamers. Lauvao endured five surgeries last year and didn’t participate in OTAs or minicamp on the field so the coaching staff is slowly seeing how much he can handle.

Tight end

Watch closely for how the tight ends are used with Reed back. Will Washington really keep all four of them? Don’t forget that Derek Carrier remains on the PUP list, but is strengthening his surgically-repaired right knee. The Redskins gave up a fifth-round pick for him in a trade with the 49ers last summer after a rash of preseason injuries.

Vernon Davis dropped a touchdown pass last week from Colt McCoy, but he had separation on the play and has generally been getting the most looks when Reed has been out. Niles Paul caught a pass as a fullback last week, but you wonder how many looks he gets with Davis around. Logan Paulsen remains a key special-teams player and the best blocker of the bunch. Carrier still has yet to practice and could begin the season on the PUP list anyway and serve as a mid-year replacement.

Special teams

So much good and bad last week. Dustin Hopkins hit his field goals and extra points. The kickoff unit also gave up a 101-yard touchdown. Rashad Ross opened the game with a 37-yard kick return to set up the first-team offense. It was called back because of holding against Paul. Tough to give high marks to a unit that gave up a touchdown in a game you lost by three points. But the coverage was actually pretty good last week, especially on punts. Tress Way was a demon with two punts over 60 yards and four over 50. Rookie Su’a Cravens and special-teams ace Terrance Garvin – signed specifically to help here – helped down four punts inside the 20. Garvin tracked his ball down at the one. More of that. Less of the touchdowns and penalties. Do that and the Redskins will feel good about the direction this group is headed.

Penalties

Look, it’s a preseason game and there’s zero evidence that what happens now will occur during the regular season. Especially when you have almost 27 players on the field who won’t be there during the season. Referees are in preseason mode, too. But this is still a concern and here’s why: A lot of the 14 penalties for 123 yards in the Atlanta game were against veteran players who should know better. Cornerback Josh Norman expressed frustration about this after the Falcons game.

Both outside linebackers Trent Murphy and Preston Smith lined up offsides – inexplicable mistakes. Right guard Morgan Moses was penalized too often last year. A hold in his first game wasn’t ideal. Paul had the special-team penalty. Stephen Paea was whistled for a roughing-the-passer call. Even wide receiver Rashad Ross committed an unnecessary roughness infraction. Save for the Moses penalty, these were the most frustrating penalties – not physical mistakes, but mental. They indicate a lack of focus. And the Redskins generally stayed away from them last season.

Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.

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