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When it comes to making the Redskins’ 53, the games matter more than practice

When it comes to making the Redskins’ 53, the games matter more than practice

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.

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Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Redskins outside linebacker Trent Murphy underwent surgery this offseason to repair a broken bone in his foot, per a source with knowledge of the situation. Murphy has completely healed and is a full participant at training camp. 

The injury came late in the 2016 season and he played the Redskins final game of the season with the broken foot. He was listed on the injury report for that game as limited with a foot injury. He was not listed on the Week 16 injury report against the Bears.

Hit with a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs this offseason, Murphy won't suit up for the Redskins until Week 6. He will be forced to miss the first four games, and then the Redskins have a bye in Week 5. 

Murphy had a breakout season in 2016, finishing the year with nine sacks and 47 tackles. A second round pick in 2014, Murphy had a combined six sacks in the two seasons prior. Last offseason, Murphy was tasked with gaining weight for a position switch to defensive end. After he gained the weight, outside linebacker Junior Galette was lost for the season, and Murphy was moved back to outside linebacker. 

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Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

RICHMOND—The Redskins offense is dealing with some challenges on the field. Their top two wide receivers from last year left as free agents and replacements Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have little game experience with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Tight end Jordan Reed (toe) was a surprise entry on the PUP list. Running back Rob Kelley needs to prepare to get ready to carry the load for 16 games.

There is one other change the team must deal with. Sean McVay, the team’s offensive coordinator, left in January to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He had been calling the plays for the past two years. That duty will now fall on head coach Jay Gruden.

RELATED: Reed one of four to start camp on PUP

Play calling is not new to Gruden. He did it from 2011-2013 for the Bengals when he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Gruden also made the play calls in 2014, his first season as the Redskins head coach.

Still, he wants to make sure that he’s ready to retake the play caller’s headset. The method he will use is to throw away the script.

“I think early on we’re going to have scripted practices, and once we get going, get our main core of plays in there, I think we’ll have a lot of unscripted practices where I can call plays,” he said. “So I think that’s the most important thing, the unscripted practice. Whether it’s two -minute, whether it’s drives down the field, whether it’s third downs, all that good stuff, do a lot of unscripted work, red zone and go from there, but I feel pretty comfortable already.”

That certainly makes sense. Games are not scripted and the successful play callers who can adjust to the ebb and flow of the game. You can’t duplicate the dynamic but you can come close in 11 on 11 work on the practice field.

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Another key to making this work will be trusting his defensive and special teams coaches. If Gruden can’t delegate to them he will be getting pulled in too many directions on game days.

“How well I handle that will be how successful I will probably be as a coordinator calling plays and as a coach,” he said. “I feel good about the staff that I have around me. Coach [Greg] Manusky and Jim Tomsula and Torrian Gray on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think I have to worry so much about that, Ben Kotwica, Bret Munsey on the special teams. The big thing is I have got to be involved in the football game, make sure I’m ready for the red flag tosses and all that good stuff, but for the most part I have confidence in the defense and special team coaches and players.”

We will see how well it works out. As a rookie coach he occasionally seemed to be overwhelmed by all that he had piled on his plate (the situation was complicated by his curious decision not to hire a quarterbacks coach). But now, with three years under his belt and an exponentially better understanding of what is involved in coaching an NFL game, there should be more confidence that he can handle it.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.