The Washington Redskins' starting quarterback battle is going down to the wire. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get the privilege of being involved.
The Redskins will head into the regular season with either Rex Grossman or John Beck as the starting quarterback, and it appears to be a legitimately difficult decision. Both passers have performed well during the preseason, with Grossman completing 64.2% of his passes and compiling a 92.3 passer rating and Beck marking 74.1% and 99.0 in the same categories. Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who cut his NFL coaching teeth in Tampa, said on Tuesday that the competition is too close to call.
That sets up a somewhat unusual but very favorable situation for the visiting Buccaneers at FedExField on Thursday night. Tampa Bay will rest most of its 22 offensive and defensive starters in the preseason finale, which means Buccaneer reserves could possibly get a good test against many of the Redskin starters in the early going.
Because Beck and Grossman are still battling it out for the starting job, Washington will give the starting offense more playing time than is common in the preseason finale. Beck will take the 'Skins' first offensive snap of the game and he'll be joined on the field by the entire starting offensive line. That obviously creates an outstanding test for Tampa Bay's young defensive linemen.
Beck and company will face the following Buccaneers' defense: LE Da'Quan Bowers, DT John McCargo, DT Brian Price, RE Tim Crowder, SLB Simoni Lawrence, MLB Adam Hayward, WLB Tyrone McKenzie, LCB Myron Lewis, RCB Elbert Mack, SS Corey Lynch and FS Larry Asante.
On offense, the Bucs are expected to start the following players: WR Sammie Stroughter, LT James Lee, LG Marc Dile, C Matt Allen, RG Derek Hardman, RT Demar Dotson, TE Ryan Purvis, QB Rudy Carpenter, RB Kregg Lumpkin and FB Erik Lorig. For the second straight year, Carpenter will get the start in the preseason finale; he may eventually give way to intriguing prospect Jonathan Crompton.
In addition to all 22 designated starters, the Bucs will also rest DT Frank Okam, LB Dekoda Watson, CB E.J. Biggers, OL Jeremy Zuttah and QB Josh Johnson.
Washington likely won't give much playing time to their starting defenders, either, but the Bucs' still expect a significant challenge for their young players on both sides of the ball. The team surely remembers its dramatic 17-16 escape from FedExField last December.
"They're always tough," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris. "You talk about the zone scheme and Coach [Mike] Shanahan and what he's able to do with his team. All those things are great. We always look forward to playing this type of defense that's going to bring you all types of multiple blitz packages and things of that nature. You've got to be ready to deal with Coach [Jim] Haslett. They've got some really granted football players. They've got their quarterback battle still going on so I'm sure we'll see them a little bit. I look forward to playing them. It's always fun when you play against a zone scheme team like this to get you ready."
As usual, the Buccaneers are using this game as a final bit of evidence as they stack the bottom half of their roster for the regular season. Still, they want to win, and they also want to clean up the things that haven't gone perfectly this preseason. Perhaps the best example of that is the penalty problem; the Bucs have been flagged 34 times through three games already.
"It's something that you have to correct," said Morris. "You're glad it's happening in the preseason. You kind of knew this would happen a little bit with the rustiness of these guys, not being together the whole offseason. We've been calling it tight in practice and they've called it tight in games, and that's the way you want it, to get these acclimated back to being correct, being on the rules and the details, and where they should align."
In the end, correcting that issue might be easier than making the final roster decisions. The Bucs believe their 80-man roster is considerably deeper than it was 12 or 24 months ago, which means some of the players released this weekend will be very difficult decisions. The preseason finale could be the deciding factor for a few players, though their work over the last five weeks certainly won't be discounted.
"There are a lot more names up there that you like than you don't like at this point," said Morris. "That's a good sign for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that we're getting better. There are going to be some tough days [ahead] and some cut-downs. We're getting better, but it's also getting harder. These guys have worked their butts off and I'm proud of them.
"Hopefully most of our guys will hook up with somebody. They've got great tape out there and I look forward to seeing them prove old Coach Morris wrong. These guys have done a great job for me and I hope they've had a great experience."
Rookie safety Ahmad Black will not play in tonight's game due to an ankle sprain. Since the team planned to rest its starters anyway, Black is the only specific scratch due to injury.
The Bucs and Redskins kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post an update of the first-half action during halftime and a detailed game report after the final whistle. In addition, Gene Deckerhoff and Dave Moore of the Buccaneers Radio Network will provide a wrap-up of the action on video after the game.