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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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Five takeaways: A lot to like about the Redskins' dominant primetime win.

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Five takeaways: A lot to like about the Redskins' dominant primetime win.

Here are my five takeaways from the Redskins’ 27-10 win over the Raiders:

This was the Redskins best defensive performance since 1991. That was the last time they held an opponent to under 128 total yards. They were physical, smart, determined and they made plays. If not for two turnovers they would have had a shutout. Oakland did not cross the Washington 48 without the benefit of a gift. Just dominant. 

With a strong defense, you can do what you want to on offense. I asked Kirk Cousins how much running for a couple of yards a pop as Samaje Perine was doing early in the game helped the offense. He answered in part by saying that the offense can afford to run for a low average per carry when the defense is playing so well. That's true. A punt isn't a bad play when you are confident that you are likely to get the ball back three plays later. 

Chris Thompson just keeps getting better every week. His patience when he has the ball in his hands and his ability to burst into the opening when it's there are textbook excellent. Oh yeah, his open field speed, which he gets to show off after being patient and cutting is amazing. Even the smaller plays, like two near the end of the half, when he wove his way through the cracks in the defense and then got out of bounds after gaining everything he could, are fun to watch. He is the Redskins' offensive MVP so far. 

Doctson showed why the Redskins drafted him on one flash. Nobody is going to give Josh Doctson an MVP award but we did see his potential when he went up and took that deep pass away from David Amerson for the touchdown. Plays like that make you see why the Redskins drafted him in the first round and why they have been patient with him. He will need to develop consistency but in the meantime, splash plays like that help a lot.

It’s hard to find fault in this one. Normally in these posts, I try to find a positive in a loss and something to be critical of in a win. But it’s really hard to find much to be critical about in the immediate aftermath of this one. Jamison Crowder’s muff of a punt certainly was an issue and perhaps Samaje Perine could have made more out of the line’s blocking for him. But from the defense to Cousins to Thompson to Zach Brown to D.J. Swearinger and many more, it was as dominant a game as we’ve seen from this team in a while. Can they keep it up? Tune in next Monday from Arrowhead Stadium and we’ll find out.

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.

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With one catch, Josh Doctson proved just how dangerous he can be for the Redskins

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With one catch, Josh Doctson proved just how dangerous he can be for the Redskins

LANDOVER, Md. — It took a while, longer than likely anyone expected, but Josh Doctson's first career touchdown catch may just have been worth the wait.

In the third quarter of the Redskins' 27-10 win over the Raiders on Sunday night, Kirk Cousins lofted a deep ball from a bit beyond midfield toward Doctson, who was being boxed out by David Amerson. And as the pass made its descent, Amerson went up to go snag it.

There was just one problem for the corner: Doctson went up and got to it first.

The result? A 52-yard touchdown that made the score 21-0 in favor of the hosts but, far more importantly, opened — quite forcefully, too — everyone's eyes to the sheer talent No. 18 possesses.

MORE: WHY THE DEFENSE'S EFFORT WAS SO ENCOURAGING

"I just made the play," the second-year wideout said afterward, about as nonchalantly as he made the TD look even though it absolutely wasn't. "It was pretty simple to be honest."

Against the Eagles and Rams in Weeks 1 and 2, Doctson suited up for Washington's offense but wasn't involved at all. And in the early going vs. Oakland, it again looked like he'd walk off the field with the same statline as an inactive player, on the verge of facing more questions about why he isn't producing. 

But that all changed on one jump-ball, which is exactly what his head coach has been anxiously waiting for.

"I think it was some relief for him," Jay Gruden answered when asked about the highlight. "I think the players have seen him do that in practice quite often but nobody else has... It wasn't a perfectly thrown ball, but to give him a chance where he can go up and make a big time catch, hopefully we'll get more of that."

RELATED: REDSKINS PLAYERS SIT AND KNEEL DURING ANTHEM

Doctson's QB, who gestured toward him during the post-score celebration as if to say There's the dude you've all been hearing about for months, certainly appreciated it.

"I do like Josh's ball skills and his ability to catch the ball up in the air and I thought, 'You know what, I'm going to give him a chance, they have been asking me to give him that chance and let's give it to him," Cousins said.

As fans of the team know all too well by now, Doctson isn't someone that can be counted on yet. He's oft-injured, and the grab he made over Amerson, while spectacular, was just the third of his career. 

But that sequence provides hope that many more similar to it will follow if he continues to stay healthy and gains more of Gruden's and Cousins' trust this year. He's still far from validating his 2016 first-round selection, but it's now obvious he has the skills to distance himself from those who so badly want to label him a bust.