5 Storylines: Redskins vs. Buccaneers

WASHINGTON — The Redskins play their final preseason game in wet, stormy Tampa tonight. Those aren’t ideal conditions for the 50 players who made the trip. But it’s a chance for those on the roster bubble to make one last impression before final cuts are due Saturday at 4 p.m. Here are some storylines to watch:

Nate the Great

Okay, maybe not yet. Third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld admittedly struggled early in training camp. That’s what you get with a developmental quarterback, though, and the Redskins haven’t had a rookie like this at the position in a while. What they wanted to see – improvement. It hasn’t been linear, but it’s there. Sudfeld threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the preseason game against Atlanta and led the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against the Jets. Tonight, the stage is his. Sudfeld will play the entire game barring injury. Colt McCoy is just there as a backup. The Redskins didn’t enter camp a lock to keep a third quarterback on the roster. But Sudfeld, a sixth-round draft pick from Indiana, has shown enough promise they’d likely lose him to another team if they tried to slip him onto the practice squad.

Running back competition

Not really sure how much competition is left here. Matt Jones (separated left shoulder) and Chris Thompson are safely resting at home. Keith Marshall (sprained left elbow) is on IR. If the Redskins keep four running backs then Rob Kelley and Mack Brown are both safe. If they drop to three or decide to sign someone else – Pierre Thomas? – then one of them goes. The bet is Kelley makes it. He’s shown more consistently this preseason, though Brown had a good night against Buffalo last week.

A look at Cullen Jenkins

The longtime NFL veteran was signed this week and will jump immediately into action against Tampa Bay tonight. He joked that he barely understood a word on the field at practice Monday. The language in Joe Barry’s system is just different than what he’s used to. But he’s been around. He’ll figure it out. He should have a good shot at a roster spot. The team cut Stephen Paea for a reason. Unless the Redskins feel like young players Anthony Lanier – an undrafted rookie – or Corey Crawford are better options, Jenkins should make it if they decide to keep seven defensive linemen as they did last season. What they decide to do with fifth-round pick Matt Ioannidis is important, too. Teams are usually reluctant to cut someone drafted that high if they have potential. But it’s a balancing act between waiting for a prospect to develop and fielding the best roster for 2016. Ioannidis, who had a nice week at the Senior Bowl and went 152nd overall, might not make it through waivers. Jenkins is a known commodity. It’s just about how much he has left in the tank.

Final spots

Jay Gruden claimed there were “eight or nine” roster spots in doubt as final cuts approach. That seems like a lot of indecision, but there are so many moving parts here and injuries at one position can play a factor at another. Remember – who starts on the 53-man roster is never set in stone anyway. Within days things can change. Defensive back Deshazor Everett made the team last year and was cut before the week ended. Later he returned to the team anyway. So keep an eye on tight end (Logan Paulsen), wide receiver (Rashad Ross), offensive line (Josh LeRibeus) and inside linebacker (Terrance Garvin). Even Everett can still win a spot – though he appears on the outside looking in with four safeties clearly ahead of him throughout training camp (DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon, Duke Ihenacho, David Bruton). He’s a demon on special teams, though. That will be brought up when one of the coaches makes a case for him.

Practice squaders

Players don’t have to make the 53-man roster anyway to make an impact. Look at inside linebacker Will Compton. He was signed to the practice squad after getting cut in 2013. Now he’s a full-time starter. Chris Baker is another example. So players like Carlos Fields or Lanier can keep faith. Put good things on tape tonight and even if Saturday ends with them turning in a playbook, they could be right back in Ashburn on Monday morning practicing and waiting for their chance. Maybe a rookie safety like Geno Matias-Smith makes it to the practice squad. The Redskins could use young players at that position especially. And even if they pass, players can still catch the attention of another team around the league. In the NFL there’s always somebody watching.

Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.

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