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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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Where did Redskins run game go? Gruden wants to recommit to Fat Rob

Where did Redskins run game go? Gruden wants to recommit to Fat Rob

Since the Redskins inserted Robert Kelley into the starting running back spot, Washington's ground game has stabilized and improved. It's well documented that Kelley limits negative plays in the run game - something his predecessor Matt Jones struggled with.

Kelley got his first start in London against the Bengals, and he ran the ball 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, good for more than 4 yards-per-carry. From there, Kelley gained 97 yards against the Vikings and 137 against the Packers, both Redskins wins. And in those post-bye week victories over the NFC North foes, Kelley got the ball 22 and 24 times respectively. 

RELATED: THERE'S LOTS OF TALK ABOUT TRENT WILLIAMS AT GUARD INSTEAD OF TACKLE. DON'T LISTEN TO IT.

Coming off the Green Bay win, it seemed obvious that getting Kelley the ball more than 20 times per game was a big boost for the Redskins offense. Against the Packers, Washington piled up more than 500 yards of offense and Kelley averaged 5.7 YPC.

The 'Skins headed to Dallas riding high for a Thanksigving matchup, and quickly got into a big hole en route to a shootout loss. Jay Gruden explained after the game that being down multiple touchdowns early in the game forced Washington to get away from Kelley and rely on Kirk Cousins' arm. The QB's performance was impressive, he threw for more than 400 yards, but Kelley got just 14 carries.

In the Cowboys game, that made sense. 

Against Arizona this past weekend, Kelley again got just 14 carries. And that did not make sense.

"There’s no doubt about it, we would like to get more of [Kelley] involved," Gruden said on Monday.

The Redskins never trailed by more than a TD against the Cardinals like they did against the Cowboys. Washington even held two different second half leads in Arizona, and still, Kelley did not get the ball enough. 

Further, Kelley was running the ball well in the desert. Where he struggled against Dallas - 14 rushes for 37 yards, good for just 2.64 YPC - Kelley gained more than 60 yards on 14 carries against the Cards, good for a 4.5 YPC average.

"We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more – more touches for Robert because he’s been very good as far as running the football," Gruden said. "We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced."

Beyond a balanced offense, Cousins often throws his best passes off play action. Without a commitment to the run game, the play action passing looks struggle. Usually one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, Cousins did not play his best against the Cardinals. Some of that was missing throws, and some of it was heavy pressure from the Arizona defensive line. 

Regardless of the reason for Cousins' struggles - he completed only 21 of 37 pass attempts - more run plays might have helped the Redskins quarterback get into more of a rythym, not to mention slow down the Arizona pass rush.

In six wins this season, the Redskins have run the ball nearly 28 times per game. In five losses, that number dips to 19 runs per game. The proof is in the numbers. 

More Redskins: JAMISON CROWDER'S TOUCHDOWN DANCE WAS BETTER THAN HIS TOUCHDOWN

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Will Long's concussion force the Redskins to make a roster move?

Will Long's concussion force the Redskins to make a roster move?

The Redskins are dealing with concussions to two starters as they start preparations for their critical game against the Eagles on Sunday.

Jay Gruden said on Monday that both center Spencer Long and safety Will Blackmon are in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Long exited the Redskins’ loss to the Cardinals on Sunday in the second quarter and Blackmon left in the fourth. The status of each of the players for Sunday in Philadelphia is up in the air.

RELATED: DO THE REDSKINS NEED A BIG DAY FROM COUSINS TO WIN?

If Blackmon can’t go against the Eagles the team would be able to get by with Donte Whitner and Duke Ihenacho at safety. That would leave them with Deshazor Everett, who hasn’t played a snap on defense this year, as the backup but they could survive.

If it looks like Long will be out the Redskins might have to make some roster changes. Veteran John Sullivan is a capable backup and they can function with him if Long is out. But there is not another center on the roster.

“I think right now if Spencer can’t go then we’d probably have to make a roster adjustment and we’ll have to see where Kory [Lichtensteiger] is,” said Gruden. “We’ll have to see. Ronald Patrick’s on our practice squad, that’s an opportunity. [Shawn] Lauvao is our backup center if he can’t go right now, so I’d like to keep him at guard. He hasn’t done a lot of center work, so we’d have to get somebody in here, somebody up.”

Lichtensteiger was the starter at center until he suffered a calf injury in Week 3. He went on injured reserve right after that. The Redskins have not used their one move to designate a player to return from IR so they could do that with Lichtensteiger if he is healthy.

The Redskins are Patrick’s seventh team since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina in 2014. He is 6-1, 310 and he has yet to be on the 53-man roster for a regular season game.

More Redskins: WHERE DID REDSKINS RUN GAME GO? GRUDEN WANTS TO RECOMMIT TO FAT ROB