How did Chris Thompson turn it around so quickly?
TAMPA—The Redskins arrived at Raymond James Stadium facing a host of questions Thursday. But by the time the buses departed following their 30-12 thrashing of the Buccaneers, four of their most pressing issues – Robert Griffin III’s status, Brandon Meriweather’s health and the openings at punt returner and backup running back – had come into focus.
Let’s start with RG3.
After being examined by Dr. James Andrews prior to kickoff, Griffin met the goal he set for himself in a hospital recovery room almost eight months ago. The quarterback tweeted that he had been cleared by Andrews and Coach Mike Shanahan confirmed the news moments later.
Then things got weird. A little bit, at least.
Shanahan said Andrews had “a couple of concerns” about Griffin and that the coach and quarterback would huddle at some point over the weekend. Then, asked directly if Griffin would be under center Week 1 against the Eagles, Shanahan sidestepped the question, saying he would have an update early next week.
“Like I said, I’m going to have a chance to talk to Robert about the couple of concerns Dr. Andrews has, and I’ll share that with you on Monday [regarding] which direction we’re going,” he said in an unusually brief postgame news conference.
It’s not immediately clear what caused Shanahan to be so elusive. Maybe Dr. Andrews really does have some minor concerns. Maybe he wants to see Griffin respond well to another week of practice. Then again, maybe Shanahan simply is giving his rookie counterpart in Philly, Chip Kelly, one more thing to lose sleep over in the coming days.
Either way, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if there’s at least a hint of doubt about Griffin’s availability for the opener until late next week. But this much we know for sure: With Andrews' blessing, it’s only a matter of time before No. 10 will calling the plays for the Redskins again.
Meriweather, meantime, didn’t record a tackle in his first action of the exhibition season. But that shouldn’t be alarming. Meriweather has played exactly two quarters of football since Dec. 18, 2011.
The most important thing was that he emerged unscathed, saying afterward that his surgically repaired knee felt good. It’s also a positive sign that Meriweather – who’s expected to be Washington’s starting strong safety this season – knows he has much work to do in order to regain the form that helped him earn Pro Bowl berths in 2009 and 2010.
“It felt good to run around and actually hit somebody besides my own teammates,” Meriweather said. “But it could be a lot better. I [didn’t] have the energy that I usually carry around, probably because I didn’t make no plays. [Still] it was real good to get the reads down, to actually see a different scheme beside our offense.”
He added: “The worst thing that could happen to me right now would be the coaches telling me I have to sit out another week because I didn’t look ready.”
Shanahan said Meriweather “played well” and looked “fine.” If Shanahan is left with the same impression after studying film of the game, Meriweather will indeed be on the field against the Eagles.
Which is also where rookie running back Chris Thompson should end up after a clutch effort against the Bucs. The coaches wanted to see Thompson make another play in the return game. And did he ever.
After misreading the first punt he fielded, Thompson made the most of his next opportunity. He showed patience after securing the ball and before the seam opened. Then he showed his elusiveness with three perfectly timed cuts and his trademark breakaway speed once he got into the open field. Sixty-nine yards later, Thompson had given something the Redskins didn’t get at all in 2012: a special teams touchdowns.
“It was nice to see him make a play like he did,” Shanahan said. “You could see his speed and explosion.”
Thompson added: “I just had to catch the punt and set it up. I had three guys in my face, just standing there waiting for me. I just had to be patient and wait a little bit. Once Keiland Williams made his block, I knew I had a chance after that. I’ve been feeling real comfortable doing it.”
Thompson also handled the Redskins’ only kickoff return, taking the ball back 21 yards. In the running game, the fifth round draft pick had 18 yards on four carries (4.5 yard average), including a 16-yard scamper, and also showed that he’s made strides in pass protection.
Thompson, though, wasn’t the only running back to distinguish himself. Veteran Evan Royster did, too. With 11 carries and 59 yards – 36 of which came on a run the Fairfax native called one of the best of his career – he did exactly what he had hoped to accomplish. And that was to make the coaching staff’s decision a “hard” one.
Last season, the Redskins kept three tailbacks. This year, it appears they might have to keep four after Thompson and Royster made late bids to join Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr.
“It’s been a ride,” Royster said of the most intense position battle of the preseason. “You’ve really never known what the coaches are thinking."
Asked if he was going to sleep a little better knowing he had made a strong closing argument, Royster laughed and said flatly, “No.”
As Griffin, Meriweather, Thompson and Royster walked out of the locker room late Thursday night, not much had been completely resolved. After all, the 53-man won’t be submitted to the league until 6 p.m. on Saturday and opening night is still more than a week away. But there was certainly more clarity as the bus pulled away from the stadium.