Redskins training camp countdown: The four stages of every NFL preseason

The dog days of July are almost over, and training camp is nearly upon us. Here are the four stages that this preseason, like every other one, will go through from now until Week 1.

Each year, the Washington Redskins' roster, coaching staff and expectations seem to change quite a bit. However, the flow of their preseason, from the start of training camp to the last exhibition game, always follows a familiar path.

With that in mind, here are the four stages that players and fans of the team are bound to experience in the coming weeks.

STAGE 1: THE "EVERYTHING IS GREAT" PHASE

This portion of the preseason is initiated at the start of training camp and usually runs for about a week. Since it's the first sign of real football since the end of the previous year, positivity reigns supreme. 

Prepare for a lot of "Kirk Cousins looks really sharp" tweets. Be ready for all the quotes about how nasty Junior Galette is and how his presence will help Joe Barry's defense rack up more sacks than the rest of the NFC East combined. Rookies will be "adjusting well" to the new schemes they find themselves in, and veterans will be "in the best shape of their lives."

Fumbles on handoff exchanges and offsides from the defensive line won't matter too much, either, since these guys are just getting back from extended time off. There'll be so much optimism in Richmond, those in attendance could eat it for breakfast and not be hungry again until dinner. 

Unfortunately, this stage doesn't last forever.

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STAGE 2: THE "WE ARE TIRED OF BEATING UP ON OUR OWN GUYS" PHASE

The second stage of the preseason will begin around the beginning of the second week, and will end at kickoff of the first preseason matchup. This will be the juncture where you hear numerous players say that they're ready to start hitting guys in other jerseys, and where a few scuffles between an undrafted free agent from Northern Wyoming Community State College A&M and a fringe backup will go down.

Patience wears thin here. Watch out for trash talk among DeSean Jackson and Josh Norman or Bashaud Breeland. Listen for Jay Gruden to start taking issue with the lack of energy or communication breakdowns. The freshness of training camp has worn off, and the Redskins will need something to spark their enthusiasm. 

Luckily, that spark is right around the corner.

STAGE 3: THE "FINALLY, SOME (SEMI) REAL GAMES GET TO BE PLAYED" PHASE

Aside from Stage 1, this is the peak of every preseason. It spans from the first exhibition contest to the third — where the starters' playing time increases with each week — and brings with it a lot of important events.

Items that get crossed off during this period of time include...

1) The separation on the depth chart at up-for-grabs positions. In 2016, this will include inside linebacker, the last couple of cornerback jobs and the backend of a few vital offensive offense spots.

2) The first glimpse of shiny new free agents and much-anticipated rookies. Will Su'a Cravens be a running back by this point? How will Kendall Fuller look? And will newbies like Norman, Vernon Davis and David Bruton be settled in? 

3) The development of darlings, otherwise known as The Hunt for the Next Marko Mitchell. The first-stringers will suit up for a decent amount in the first three exhibitions, but there'll still be plenty of clock left for the lesser-known Redskins. Who will rise up and capture the hearts of many residents in the DMV like Colt Brennan and Brandon Banks have done before? 

All three of those bullet points prove that this part of the schedule is almost all fun. Just be ready for when Cousins throws an interception, Norman gets beat for a touchdown and half of the area is rioting in the streets and asking for Joe Gibbs to be brought back for a third stint as coach. That could also occur in Stage 3.

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STAGE 4: THE "OK, THAT WAS FUN, BUT LET'S GET THIS THING MOVING" PHASE

Everything after the so-called dress rehearsal is boring. Aside from the handful of preseason heroes that'll compete in the preseason finale, everyone's exhausted by now and anxious for the scores to start meaning something. Even Scot McCloughan, who would make this sport a part of every elementary school's mandatory curriculum if he could — even if it meant the end of kids learning basic math — is ready for things to wrap up.

The only positive aspect of Stage 4? When it ends, the real lights come on. 

Follow Peter Hailey on Twitter at @barelyin.

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