The large story in the nation’s capital this offseason—aside from the ongoing debate about their nickname—was the hiring of Jay Gruden after four seasons under the guidance of Mike Shanahan. Gruden was the offensive coordinator for the last three years for the Cincinnati Bengals, where he orchestrated a top-10 offense behind Pro Bowlers Andy Dalton and AJ Green.
An equally accomplished passer-to-receiver tandem was supposed to present itself in the return of Robert Griffin III (who sat out the last three games of 2013 to limit the damage to his already busted knee) and the debut of DeSean Jackson. However, the latter hurt his ankle in a drill with Patriots newbie Darrelle Revis during Wednesday’s third and final joint practice. Jackson, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal in April, could miss the game Thursday. Certain to be out of the game will be the NFL‘s top receiver of 2013, Pierre Garcon (113 receptions), who is sidelined with hamstring issues. These injuries will make it difficult to assess how Gruden’s philosophies on offense will materialize.
As for the visiting team, several all-Pro names are on everybody’s eye, but the biggest who will play at FedEx Field will be Revis, arguably the most valuable defender in football. So far, the former divisional foe from the New York Jets has done nothing to dispel how much of an impact he can make, shutting down receivers—like Jackson—and picking off Tom Brady multiple times in practice when tested. Vince Wilfork, at 32, is also back following a ruptured Achilles that sidelined him for the final 12 games a year ago.
Training camp observers say the defense at camp is on par with the offense for the first times in years, and is capable of becoming a top five D in the league. Speaking of the New England offense, Brady—who just turned 37 earlier this week—is slinging the pill like he always has, and has toyed with the Redskins defense during the three-day joint practices. That is even without Rob Gronkowski, who is nursing a torn ACL and MCL, or backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
New England looks to also be without first-round pick Dominique Easley, the undersized defensive tackle out of Florida who has a fine chance of starting Week 1. Another rookie to be on the lookout for is quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, the 62nd pick from Eastern Illinois and possible heir to Brady. Garappolo won’t see the field until the second half, which, by then, could have already exposed a defense that ranked 30th in total points last year (29.9/game).
Washington did little to bolster their Jim Haslett-led defense, besides drafting Stanford all-American linebacker Trent Murphy with their first selection (47th overall). They also return inside linebacker Keenan Robinson and strong safety Phillip Thomas after missing all of the 2013 season. One last name to keep an eye on is suspension extraordinaire and “Big Bang Clock,” Brandon Meriweather, an old friend to those in New England and starting strong safety in DC.