Now that the Redskins are officially eliminated from playoff contention, will they be playing some younger players to get them on the field and see what they have going forward?
Well, according to Mike Shanahan, no and yes.
“We’ll play the people that we think will give us the best chance to win,” Shanahan said, implying that he would continue with veterans over younger players if they were playing even a little better.
But without pausing, Shanahan said that he might go with some players to see what they can do.
“A lot of times it is a younger player or a player we think has an upside,” he said. “A lot depends if you plan on having somebody back the following year. And so you give that guy a chance to prove what he can do.”
It looks like a couple of players are going to get a chance to prove what they can do but more out of necessity than choice. Rookie DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round draft pick, will play strong safety in place of LaRon Landry. And Willie Smith, who defied the odds to make the team as an undrafted rookie, is likely to start at left tackle due to the suspension of Trent Williams.
Gomes has started two games, one a free safety and one at strong, and has played in 12 of the team’s 13 games. Smith saw his first NFL action last week when he didn’t start but played most of the game at left tackle against New England.
“I thought it was good experience for Willie,” said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. “For him to get in there, you know, his first time playing. He was by no means was perfect, but he battled and fought through some things, did some good things [and] some bad things.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett compared Gomes to linebacker Perry Riley, who played sparingly as a rookie last year but who now is solidifying his grip on a starting job.
“I think he’s going to be a good football player,” Haslett said of Gomes. “This gives him a chance to play five, six games to show us what he can do for the future. He’s a real instinctive football player.”
One thing that will prevent the Redskins from making many massive lineup changes is the fact that several rookies and younger players already are starting or contributing. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, of course, stepped in as a starter from the beginning and he has not missed a snap. Roy Helu has started the last three games at running back and has three 100-yard rushing efforts in each of them. Seventh-round pick Maurice Hurt has started five of the last six games at left guard.
Rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson probably would be starting at wide receiver had his season not ended with a hip injury last month in Miami.
Still, there are a few younger and untested players who might get a look over the next three weeks.
--Rookie receiver Niles Paul has played in 10 games but he has been targeted in the passing game only a handful of times. He could get more snaps and more opportunities to catch passes.
--Cornerback Brandyn Thompson has had a few stints on the practice squad and he was inactive two other games. In the preseason he showed some good ball skills and the coaches might be intrigued enough to see what he can do as a nickel or dime back.
--Defensive end Kentwan Balmer is not a rookie; he is in his fourth year in the league. The Redskins might take an extended look at the 25-year-old 2008 first-round selection of the 49ers to see if he can provide depth on the line.