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Redskins vs. Steelers preview: 5 things to look for

I gotta tell you: even with all the melodrama, twists & turns, on-again & off-again labor talks that drove most passionate fans absolutely crazy, it’s really damn exciting to know that, after last night, we’re going to have NFL football every single week until the middle of February.

Now in reality, the Redskins preaseason opener versus the Steelers this evening (kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm, and the game will be broadcast on NBC4), is going to be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Neither team has really had time to install their full scheme, nor develop any chemistry or continuity. There’s going to be missed tackles, mental errors, and some sloppy play in general.

Still, it’s football. And after an offseason with filled with enough story lines and rumors, high profile departures, intelligent free-agent signings, and a bountiful draft class, we finally get to see some action on the field.

There’s three more preseason games that will take place after this one, giving us plenty of time to discuss the new-comers and position battles that will take place this August. But for this first preseason game, here are the 5 main things that i’m interested in seeing:

1. See Rex run (the offense)

Look, it’s no secret that Mike & Kyle Shanahan want John Beck to win this starting job. Even while fans spent the majority of the offseason debating whether the Redskins should try and fix the damage with Donovan McNabb, take a quarterback in the draft, or trade for someone like Kyle Orton, Mike & Kyle Shanahan have been resolute in their backing of Beck.

So when the first depth chart of 2011 was released last week, it definitely raised a couple of eyebrows that Rex Grossman’s name was listed as the starting quarterback. Now, in reality, this has more to do with the fact that the team wants to give John Beck a couple extra days to recover from the little nagging injuries he’s been dealing with – namely, a tweaked groin and a sore shoulder – but the coaching staff could have to change their plans of Beck starting the season if Grossman outperforms Beck during the preseason and in practices

But no matter which way you’re looking at it, Grossman is getting the first crack at solidifying himself as the starting quarterback. Yeah, he’s probably not going to play more than 15 or 20 snaps, but let’s see what he does with them.

2. Ryan Kerrigan’s debut

After missing nine straight days of practice due to a minor knee injury – already stunting his learning curve as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 defensive scheme – us fans will finally get to see what Ryan Kerrigan can do on the field.

Kerrigan will start on Friday night, but like the majority of the starters, he’s probably not going to see more than 15 or so snaps. And yes, it’s very likely that he’s going to make a mistake or take a misstep or two, given the time and reps he’s missed in practice. Still, every fan base is always excited for the debut of their team’s top draft pick, as they’re eager to see the team take it’s new “toy” out for a spin, and form their opinion about the guy after just a dozen or so ultimately meaningless snaps.

3. The “new look” Trent Williams

Ol’ Silverback started a bit of a clamor here in DC this offseason, when he missed all the team’s player-organized workouts during the lockout. Given that there was already questions about his conditioning and work ethic early on – and that fans already had a bitter taste in their mouth after dealing with Albert Haynesworth and his lack of conditioning – the alarm bells seemed like they were ready to be sounded for the Redskins top pick in the 2010 draft.

But from all accounts, Williams has come into camp in fantastic shape and with a great attitude. And every local scribe who covers the team will tell you that he’s looked great in practices, to date. So I’m very anxious to see what happens when he’s lined up in front of James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley (and their combined 20.5 sacks in 2010), instead of some scout team or 2nd string player. Given the Redskins “murderer’s row” of opponents on their 2011 schedule (check the 2nd half of the schedule – it’s absolutely savage) and their well-documented lack of star power at the QB position, there’s a lot of responsibility resting on the shoulders of big Trent in 2011.

4. The revamped Defensive Line

You could argue that the two biggest “splashes” the Redskins made during this year’s Wild West-esque free agency period were made right on the defensive line (spending big money on guys who play in the trenches? Somewhere, Vinny Cerrato is very confused).

Within the first two or three days of free agency, the Redskins raided the pantry of fellow NFC East rivals, signing Barry Cofield (from the Giants) to play nose tackle, and Stephen Bowen (from the Cowboys) to play defensive end. They’re both young guys (27 years old) who fit very well in the 3-4, and high-character guys to boot. Add in 2nd round pick Jarvis Jenkins out of Clemson, who’s another guy that’s had an outstanding camp so far (he’s listed as the 2nd string defensive end, behind incumbent Adam Carriker) and it’s easy to see why fans should be eager to see even a few glimpses of just how much of an upgrade these guys will provide over a defensive line that was an absolute sieve last year

5. The kicking battle of Graham vs. Graham

The Graham Gano experiene of 2010 was like a really good roller-coaster ride: dizzying highs and epic stomach drops. He came through when you least expected it, and botched kicks that should have been absolute chip shots. With the game on the line and while under pressure, he was about as reliable as a cheap watch in a swimming pool.

The jury of Redskins fans is certainly split when it comes to Gano. Many believe that he’s just another casualty in the revolving door of kickers at Redskins park, while others among us preach patience. After all, Gano was a Groza Aaward winner in college (given to the nation’s top place kicker), and kicker just seems to be one of those positions where guys seem to really hit their stride after a few seasons.

The coaching staff seemingly believed the latter, publicly supporting Gano time and time again, even after missing some emotionally brutal attempts. Yet they still brought in veteran Shayne Graham – a former Pro Bowl kicker and Virginia Tech alumnus – to battle Gano in training camp.

So far, Gano has looked better in practices, but let’s see what happens when the lights come on. The coaching staff indicated that they’ll likely flip a coin to see who’ll get the first kicking attempt among the two, and they’ll just go back and forth on each attempt.

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