Why the Redskins Scratched Kirk Cousins, Other Key Players Friday

LANDOVER — Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins stood on the field hours before Friday’s preseason game against the New York Jets and threw passes to his wide receivers.

Just 30 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. start he was in full uniform doing the same thing in warm-ups. There was no indication his night was just about over.

Washington coach Jay Gruden had decided earlier in the day to rest Cousins in the second preseason game. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy laughed and said he found out he was starting as “I was walking out of the tunnel.”

“We have a lot of good players in this locker room and I wanted to make sure that our backups were ready to play at all times,” Gruden said. “Had a lot of our backups have to step up in starting roles last year and I felt it was important for Colt to get some quality work against a quality defense along with some of the other guys that played in first-team roles.”

Of course, it also allowed Cousins to sit a game where he would have played again without left tackle Trent Williams (sore right knee). That happened last week in Atlanta, too, but Cousins only played one series in that game against the Falcons.

And he was far from the only key player to sit. Wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, tight end Jordan Reed, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, inside linebacker Will Compton and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman also walked onto the field in uniform, but not wearing pads.

The moves made more sense late in the first quarter when starting running back Matt Jones sustained a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. It is unclear how long Jones will be out, but the image of him walking off the field for x-rays in the locker room showed why some teams have become reluctant to expose starters in these exhibition games.

“Hey, for me, that’s best-case scenario in my role,” McCoy said. “I’ve got to be counted on at any point. So I thought I handled it all right.”

There were other reasons to hold out Cousins. The Redskins had a truncated week of practice. They were on the field on Saturday and Sunday in Richmond with a walk through on Monday morning that lasted just 30 minutes. After an off day Tuesday, Washington had one full practice back at Redskins Park before another off day Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a full week of preparation.

And so the reserves had a chance to shine. Martrell Spaight, a second-year pro whose entire rookie campaign was lost to a concussion, started at middle linebacker. Veteran cornerback Greg Toler and second-year corner Quinton Dunbar started and played most of the first half.

McCoy struggled at times. He was unhappy with an interception in the end zone that came after his knee buckled while trying to throw the ball away. But he also completed 13 of 16 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns to Rashad Ross, including a pretty 39-yarder. Ross and fellow reserve wide receiver Ryan Grant combined for eight catches and 101 yards as Garcon and Jackson watched. Jamison Crowder did make his preseason debut and the wide receiver added three catches for 38 yards. It was their time to shine.

“I wanted to see Spaight play with the ones and play against a good offense in the New York Jets,” Gruden said. “I wanted to see Toler, I wanted to see Dunbar play against [New York wide receiver] Brandon Marshall and some of these guys for the Jets. These guys have really shown up in practice and I wanted to see how they did against a heck of a unit like the New York Jets. They showed up and played extremely well. I was happy to see that.”

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