The Washington Redskins kick off their 2009 preseason schedule with a trip over the beltway to take on the Baltimore Ravens tonight.
The game will be long over for most fans and players by the ned of the first quarter when the starters retreat to the friendly confines of the bench, but for the coaches and roster longshots, the end of the first quarter is when the real games begin.
The roster currently hovers around 80 players and that number must be trimmed down to 53 by the start of the regular season. So for Keith Eloi, Rob Jackson, and others, this could be the only time they suit up for the 'Skins in 2009.
So what will will I be watching closely tonight?
1. Marcus Mason: So I admit it. I don't like Ladell Betts. He's signed under a $25 million contract and he hasn't been able to rush for four yards a carry since signing it.
Everyone raves about his ability catching passes out of the backfield, but here's his totals since inking the deal:
2007: 21 receptions for 174 yards (10.9 avg.)
2008: 22 receptions for 200 yards (15.4 avg.)
Not absolutely awful, but not worth a $25 million contract. Derrick Ward, Marion Barber, Correll Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook, and Clinton Portis all had more catches and Tashard Choice was just one behind him.
Combine that with just 541 yards rushing for a meager 3.5 yards per carry over the past two years and it's clear there should be a cheaper alternative to Betts.
Enter Marcus Mason.
Mason was last year's preseason rushing leader and this year he'll need to be on top of his game once again. His inability to play special teams cost him last year, but this time around expect a more well-rounded effort.
Mason runs in a style similar to Betts and Portis. He won't blow anyone's doors off, but he is patient with excellent vision. He finds the right holes and runs hard.
I doubt Betts is going anywhere, but if Mason turns heads once again, the coaching staff must consider it.
2. The entire offensive line: This is the number one concern for the team. The starters are old and injury ridden; the backups seem overmatched in camp.
Tonight will be an important test for the blockers up front. Who will emerge from the backups to provide the depth it appears the 'Skins will desperately need?
Will Montgomery and Devin Clark will be the two I keep an eye on Meanwhile second-year man Chad Rinehart will need to elevate his play as well.
The starters haven't even looked good in camp. Chris Samuels has been beaten handily by Brian Orakpo on numerous occasions; Randy Thomas hasn't been healthy; and right tackle is shaky at best.
If the line fails to show enough progress in the coming weeks, expect the 'Skins to pick up a free agent off the scrap heap. Jon Runyan and Pete Kendall are both veterans who would fare well in limited action.
The offensive line is the only thing that really alarms me about the team. If they can put this concern to bed, the team could very well make a deep play-off push.
I just doubt they'll be able to fix this problem.
3. Chris Wilson: Wilson has struggled switching over the LB position after playing DE last year. He is expected to back up Brian Orakpo, but he has been such a liability in coverage, the 'Skins might have to look for another backup.
Orakpo is supposed to move in to DE on passing downs. That means Wilson is playing LB on passing downs. Unless he's out there to rush the passer from his LB position, I don't know if that's a good move.
If Wilson isn't the answer, the Redskins have two rookie LBs in Robert Henson and Cody Glenn who could compete for time. Alfred Fincher is another possibility.
4. Punt Returner: Marques Hagans, Keith Eloi, Dominique Dorsey and Antwaan Randle El will all be returning punts tonight.
I really believe Hagans is going to make this team and if he does, he will return punts. The Redskins would have to be complete lunatics if they allowed Randle El to return punts again this year.
5. Kicker: This one won't be very exciting. Not only is it the kicking battle, it's also two bad kickers neither of whom should be on an NFL roster.
Shaun Suisham is the incumbent and given that he has done nothing in two years to merit a spot on the team, I am in Dave Rayner's camp. Rayner also was perfect in the intra-squad scrimmage last Saturday while Suisham missed on one.
Game Prediction: I know that it really doesn't matter. Still, Colt Brennan will come in and lead the 'Skins to a late TD.