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One of the biggest questions facing the Washington Redskins as they prepare for their season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles is how they will fare with a roster that now displays youth over experience.
The Redskins have been drafting young over the past few years and a vast majority of the roster now showcases players with no more than five years in the league.
Even more intriguing is the Redskins depth chart for Sunday. Running back Derrius Guice will start ahead of Adrian Peterson after missing his rookie campaign due to injury.
At wide receiver, rookie Terry McLaurin is up first with second-year player Robert Davis at backup. With veteran WR Paul Richardson on the injury report, that leaves the team with two rookie wideouts (Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon) and one veteran (Trey Quinn).
Other rookies expected to get some playing time on the defensive side of the ball include cornerback Jimmy Moreland, outside linebacker Montez Sweat and inside linebacker Cole Holcomb.
“I think we’ve drafted well the last couple of years,” head coach Jay Gruden said. “These guys have been pretty productive. The draft we had this year, the rookies, we feel like they can come in and help us right away which is good. Doesn’t happen very often, we’re going to have to ask about five or six of those guys to contribute early and contribute a lot.”
While matching up against a Super Bowl championship team with several players starting in their first-ever NFL game, that can be worrisome. It can also work in favor of the Redskins. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson admitted that it’s difficult to prepare for so many players they haven’t seen before.
“It’s a hard thing because there isn’t a lot of tape,” Pederson said. “We just have to focus on our preparation. We’ve got to go back and look at previous games. Obviously, you can look at the preseason and that might give you a little indication. Quite frankly, we just have to focus on what we’re doing and our preparation.”
Inexperience has been a hot topic since roster cuts but Gruden has maintained faith in his young talent. He doesn’t expect it to be easy but he believes they are capable of contributing early.
“We’ve got to get everybody some touches, somehow,” Gruden stated. “Defensively, they’ve just got to rally and play together and communicate – that’s the biggest thing. Philadelphia does a good job on offense giving you different sets and personnel groups and motions and all that stuff so communication is going to critical.”
“Got to know where Zach Ertz is at all times and they added DeSean Jackson, the deep threat. Obviously, Alshon [Jeffery] is still a great player. Communication is going to be huge for the young guys, but with Landon [Collins] running the show in the secondary and [Jon] Bostic running the show at the linebacker, we feel good about it.”
Incoming quarterback Case Keenum has seen several favorable moments since joining the squad that makes him believe that even with a lot of young guys in the lineup, the team has a chance to win on Sunday.
“We have guys making plays all over the field,” Keenum said. “ Receivers Terry [McLaurin], Paul [Richardson Jr.] and Trey [Quinn], young guys coming up, two that have made some real big plays and made some big strides from just the spring when I’ve been here and even more so from the film that I watched last year on them.”
Although a younger roster can be a disadvantage, the Redskins aren’t looking at it that way. Gruden feels good about his lineup and is putting trust in the new guys to make a statement. If the rookies walk onto Lincoln Financial Field with the mindset that they still have something to prove, the Redskins perceived weakness may turn out to be their biggest strength.