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Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

ATLANTA—Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, August 11, the day the Washington Redskins open their preseason in Atlanta against the Falcons.

Timeline
Today's schedule: Redskins @ Falcons 7 p.m., Georgia Dome, telecast on CSN Mid Atlantic

—The Redskins last played a game 214 days ago. It will be 32 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason vs. Jets @FedEx Field 8; Final roster cut 23; Cowboys @ Redskins 38
Focus on running backs in Atlanta

For the first time this decade, the focus of the Redskins’ preseason will be not on the quarterback but the player to whom he will be handing the ball off.

To refresh your memories on the quarterback circuses situations:

—In 2010 there was the arrival of Donovan McNabb.

—The next year we had the John Beck-Rex Grossman competition with Mike Shanahan staking his reputation on the success of the duo.

—Then in 2012 there was RG3 mania and every move of the second overall draft pick was under the microscope.

—The drama of Griffin’s recovery from a knee injury consumed the next year.

—Then in 2014 it was the arrival of Jay Gruden and questions over weather Griffin could be the answer in a West Coast offense.

—Finally, last year we had an unannounced QB competition, Griffin’s ugly performance against the Lions and Kirk Cousins getting elevated into the top spot.

This year, it’s the steady Cousins as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. His $20 million contract is enough to guarantee that nothing he does during the preseason will cause him to lose that job.

But there is plenty of mystery at the running back position:

—Second-year player Matt Jones is the starter and he probably won’t lose that job in August. But he needs to protect the football and improve on the 3.4-yard per carry average he had last year if he is going to sell Gruden and the fan base on his ability to hold the job the while season.

Chris Thompson is No. 2 on the depth chart but he is more the third down back than he is an alternative should Jones get injured or falter. It will be interesting to see what happens if they feed him the ball several times in a row to see if he can take some pounding.

Keith Marshall is where we get to the real mystery. He is a rare combination of size and speed but he lasted until the seventh round of the draft because he was unable to stay healthy at Georgia. He should see considerable action against the Falcons tonight and we’ll see about his ability and his durability. They want to know if he can be the No. 2 running back.

—Mack Brown should also get some carries. He seems to be a long shot after spending some of last year on the practice squad.

—The mystery man is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie. He looks good in no pads in the spring. But he has struggled in pads in Richmond. Kelley at least has to present a case to be able to make the practice squad. But it’s clear that his star, such as it was, has faded and he need to have a good game in order to become relevant in the running back conversation.

So there you have it. Five players, probably three jobs a stake and another one or two on the practice squad. It starts tonight in Atlanta.

Tandler on Twitter

In case you missed it 

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Terrelle Pryor reportedly working out with special glasses based on Antonio Brown's advice

Terrelle Pryor reportedly working out with special glasses based on Antonio Brown's advice

New Redskins receiver Terrelle Pryor has been working out with Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown this offseason. 

The pair documented their receiving drills, ladder drills and even yoga on social media. But what you didn't see, according to ESPN's John Keim, is Pryor practicing with special glasses that Brown recommended. 

Based on Brown’s advice, Pryor has also worn special sunglasses during offseason workouts, designed to prevent him from seeing an object – in this case the ball – until it is almost upon him. Sometimes he takes his gloves off, just to get a feel for the ball with his hands.

The glasses Keim describes sound more like blinders, or even tunnel vision, but the idea is to help Pryor get an instinctive feel for running routes. 

Despite putting up 1,007 receiving yards with the Browns last year, Pryor has only played the position since 2015. His first four seasons in the NFL were spent trying to make a roster playing quarterback. 

Now penciled into a starting receiver role for the Redskins, he knows he has a lot of catching up to do. 

"The good ones, they ask questions and never think they’ve got it. They always want to learn," Pryor said, "I’m not calling myself a great one, but I think I can get there."

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins Playbook: Some good news for Kirk Cousins

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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