RICHMOND—In practice on Saturday, rookie wide receiver Kendall Thompson went deep. The pass was slightly overthrown but Thompson lunged at just the right moment and made the grab. It was the best individual offensive play of the day.
But it may not have helped Thompson much in his quest to make the team, or even the practice squad. He played only five snaps against the Falcons on Thursday and he didn’t have a pass thrown his way. Five snaps and zero targets doesn’t give a player much of a chance to make an impression against players wearing different helmets. And while Jay Gruden doesn't dismiss the importance of practice, he clearly believes that what happens in preseason games counts more.
The cut to 53 is due on September 3, just shy of three weeks from today. Gruden was asked if any separation had started to develop on the roster after two weeks of camp and a preseason game.
“I think you’re starting to see a little bit, but there is still a lot of ball left to be played,” said Gruden. “We still have some good practice work to do and then obviously the two games that are going to be very important for a lot of these guys. There are some tight battles, but we got to see a lot of them in the game against Atlanta and then we’ll see some more in the next two games against Buffalo and the Jets and I’ll make our determination.”
Maybe I’m reading this wrong but it sure sounds to me like what happens in the games will matter a whole lot more than what happens in those half dozen or so “good practices” that will take place between now and September 3.
There is no doubt that practice is important. But practicing well is a given. Players make plays like Kendall Thompson as sort of a minimum level of competence that qualify a player to get some snaps in a game.
So does this mean that Robert Kelley has the edge over Keith Marshall for a roster spot at running back? Kelley ran for 40 yards on seven carries against the Falcons while Marshall posted minus-one yard on five attempts. Maybe, but not necessarily. It’s possible that Marshall had nowhere to run while Kelley got better blocking. Maybe Kelley didn’t go where he was supposed to go on some plays but got a good result out of it anyway. The evaluation goes well beyond just numbers.
But if we are to believe what Gruden said, should the next three preseason games go by and Kelley and Marshall have roughly the same number of carries and one has 40 more yards per game than the other, the player with more yards is a pretty good bet to make the team.
Again, practice is important for young players like Marshall, Kelley, and Thompson. But they had better follow up solid weeks of practices with coming up big in the preseason games if they want to be on that list of 53 players in a few weeks.