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5 players to keep an eye on vs. the Giants

Amidst this nonsensical talk that the Redskins should even give any consideration to firing Mike Shanahan (because clearly, another big name head coaching hire will fix everything), I actually feel we need to give him a good bit more credit than he’s currently getting.

When the decision was made to bench McNabb for the rest of the season and promote Grossman as the starter, fans and talking heads wondered aloud whether Shanahan was openly trying to lose the remaining games on purpose, with the intention of securing a higher draft pick (and possibly getting his young QB of the future). Yet the Redskins have played hard during those games, Grossman has basically been what he thought he was (effective at times, maddeningly erratic at times), and a lot of younger players are playing their asses off in order to secure a job with this team for next year.

Look, the old saying remains: you can’t make Chicken Soup out of Chicken Poop. And thanks to the woefully empty (and overpriced + underproductive) cupboard left to Shanahan by Vinny Cerrato, he’s been forced to do his best with what he has. And now that we know there will be whole bunch of big name players that likely won’t be with this team next season (McNabb, Albert Haynesworth, Clinton Portis, among others), we should spend Sunday taking a look at five players who have key roles for Shanahan and the Redskins for both next season and perhaps future seasons after that.

1. Rex Grossman: What a difference five months makes. At this point in time in early August, we were all wondering how many good seasons Donovan McNabb had left to give to this Redskins team. Turns out, it wasn’t even one full season. Fast forward to Week 17 of the regular season, and Rex Grossman went from being the butt of a cringe-worthy joke to legitimately being in the discussion for who the Redskins starting quarterback will be in 2011.

For all intents and purposes, Grossman is giving his very last audition for an NFL career on Sunday afternoon. Sure, there’s the possibility that he may catch on elsewhere in the league as a backup, but it’s almost guaranteed that no other team besides the Redskins is going to give him a legitimate chance at being their starting QB. Kyle Shanahan was instrumental in bringing Grossman to DC because of his familiarity with the offense, and that’s pretty much the only reason that Grossman has a chance at starting for the Redskins.

But being realistic, even if Grossman does end up becoming the starting quarterback for the Redskins in 2011, all he’s doing is keeping the job warm for a “quarterback of the future” who will likely be acquired sometime during this upcoming NFL draft. The coaches know that, Grossman knows that, and i’m sure that both sides are fine with that for the time being.

After playing against a couple of defenses that have had their trouble defending the pass, Sunday will be Grossman’s first (and perhaps last) chance at proving what he can do against a team that ranks in the top 10 in passing yards allowed per game and is currently tied for tops in the NFL in most quarterback sacks.

2. Trent Williams: Like a convertible sports car that you cover up and put away in the garage for the winter, Sunday is our last chance to take a look at what we hope is our stud left tackle for the next decade, at least until next July.

At this point, I don’t think anyone is questioning whether the Redskins made the right move in taking Trent “Silverback” Williams over one of the other tackles available in the 2010 draft, or any other offensive player for that matter. What’s interesting about Williams is that you can certainly see the flashes of potential: dominating size, the ability to maul people in the running game, yet also able to move his feet deftly as a pass blocker, even with his ridiculous size. The question has been, and still remains to some extent: will he ever be able to put it all together. He’s played very well at times this year, but also had bouts of inconsistency and mental lapses at other times.

After a 2010 season that was nothing short of a “baptism under fire” – playing against some of the very best pass rushers this league has to offer, week after week – Williams will once again have his hands full with trying to keep Osi Umeniyora and Jason Pierre-Paul (and their combined 14 sacks) away from Grossman. How he holds up against them and protects Grossman’s blindside will have a large role in determining whether the Redskins can play spoilers for the Giants.

3. Anthony Bryant: saying that the transition this season to a 3-4 defense has been “a little bumpy” would be putting it kindly. Ok, very very kindly. If the Steelers run defense this season has been reminiscent of their Steel Curtain days, then the Redskins rushing defense has been reminiscent of something that could be referred to as the Satin Bedsheet. They currently rank in the bottom 10 in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, average yards per carry by opposing runners, and rushing touchdowns allowed.

The nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense is considered the “lynchpin” for every other position surrounding it. They’re responsible for controlling the “A” gaps (between the Center and both Guards), and keeping the offensive linemen from reaching the second level of the defense and getting to the linebackers. Free agent acqusition Ma’ake Kemoeatu, whom the Redskisn were hoping could fill this position, has really disappointed in that role.

However, Anthony Bryant has quietly been effective at this position, especially during these last few games. He had a solid outing (if not better) against Jacksonville last week, including a move that was – dare I say – Haynesworth-esque, where he manhandled an offensive lineman and threw him in the backfield, disrupting the play. How he holds up against the Giants, who will be doing everything they can to cram the ball right down the Redskins throat, will be worth watching, especially if there are no good upgrades available at the position and they have to rely on Bryant to play that spot next year.

4. Kevin Barnes: one of the hero’s from last week, with his game-changing interception in overtime. Barnes hasn’t really been able to get a whole lot of playing time due to the depth that the Redskins had at cornerback already, at least until injuries forced him to start taking reps at the Free Safety position, where he is currently listed as the starter.

As of right now, though, it looks like Carlos Rogers won’t be playing on Sunday, due to injury. Right now, Rogers and Phillip Buchanon are not under contract for next season, and after a promising preseason, Kareem Moore has not played well this year. The comfort that Barnes shows on the field on Sunday – whether it’s at Safety or taking snaps in the nickel & dime packages at cornerback – will go a long way in determining how much money will be spent on trying to retain Rogers and/or Buchanon.

5. Chris Wilson/Rob Jackson: Yeah, i’m cheating here by listing two players. Whatever.

The whole point of transitioning from a debatably effective 4-3 defense into this misfitting 3-4 defense was to help generate turnovers and put pressure on the opposing quarterback. And it’s safe to say that there’s been a severe lack of both for long stretches of this season, including a majority of the second half of the year. Outside of Brian Orakpo, there didn’t appear to be a single player on this roster who seemed to be a good fit as a 3-4 pass rushing linebacker.

Andre Carter has to put his hand in the dirt to be effective. Lorenzo Alexander is ridiculously versatile, but rushing the passer isn’t in his repertoire. Rocky McIntosh is too undersized. But last week, we saw some hope for that position. Rob Jackson, a converted defensive end, really generated some solid pressure against two talented offensive linemen on the Jaguars. And while Jackson got a lot of credit for his game last week, we shouldn’t forget that Chris Wilson’s pressure on David Garrard in overtime was the main reason for the errant throw that resulted in Barnes intercepting the ball.

Keep an eye on both palyers on Sunday, especially in obvious passing situations, to see if they’re able to carry that momentum on from last week. At worst, either (or both) could be very useful as situational pass rushers in this defense, going forward.

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