Redskins vs. Steelers: Five Things to Watch

1. LaVar Arrington. Obviously, right? It's his preseason debut and much will be riding on how he plays. Not tonight, but throughout the season. But we'll get a glimpse of what he can still do, at least early on. Chances are, if he plays 30-40 snaps, as is possible, then he'll be gassed.

Arrington still must work into football shape and that takes a couple games. But we need to see some explosiveness. The guess is he'll play mostly at defensive end, as it seems he's been doing in practice (though they say he works at linebacker when we're not around; we'll see.). Arrington is what this defense lacks: a legit up-front playmaker. Sorry, but Warrick Holdman doesn't do the things Arrington can do. Nor, for that matter, can Marcus Washington. The latter is an excellent player and does many, many things well. But nobody can change games the way Arrington, or Sean Taylor, can. Yes, they ranked third without him and hopefully that taught him he must play within the system. But remember: they won only six games and the defense forced a paltry eight fumbles. In 2003, Arrington forced seven.

2. The quarterback. Another obvious choice, we know. But it's a crucial one. Starter Patrick Ramsey beat himself up over last week's performance and, though it's preseason, he knows he must prove to everyone that he's capable of being the starter. He still hasn't done that. He's lucky the ghost of Mark Brunell's 2004 season still hangs over him. Pittsburgh's defense forces QBs to make smart decisions, which is the key to Ramsey's season. And I don't want to hear about how playing another tough defense is why the offense couldn't do anything. Hey, if you want to be a good offense, play well against good defenses. Those excuses are fine for a first-year QB, but not one entering his fourth year.

3. Running back Clinton Portis. He needs to get a few carries to get himself ready for the season. I'd like to see if he's more patient, etc. But don't expect him to get too many carries. Running back is such an instinctual position that they don't need as many reps to get ready. But I want to see Portis take a few hits on the elbow and not be affected.

4. Jon Jansen. He gets a nice matchup in end Aaron Smith, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2004. Jansen has looked fine this summer, but he does not yet appear to be where he was in 2003 (it was Chris Samuels who struggled that year, not Jansen). Jansen still seems to be shaking off some rust from his game (reacting to counter moves). That's to be expected, which is why it's good that he's facing some top ends in the preseason. He'll be fine when the season starts.

5. Carlos Rogers. Frankly, as Marty used to say, he should be able to lock up the other starting cornerback job with a strong performance. That's just our opinion, though, and not the coaches. I like Walt Harris as a No. 3 corner, but not the starter. Let's see if Rogers really did get beat because he was winded (my thought) or because he's not ready. He should be able to handle a longer stint, to get him ready. And he'll face Hines Ward at times, after covering Chad Johnson on occasion last week.

And then some: Brandon Noble will play; how does he look? I'm guessing he'll be fine....Will Darnerien McCants line up on special teams? A bad sign if he doesn't. How does Kevin Dyson look? I'm starting to wonder about his chances. He won't be a special teams help, so he has to do more on offense. McCants is still a big target in the red zone. . . . Andy Groom can get another chance to impress some team, maybe even the Redskins, with another good night. He still shows more inconsistency in practice than Tom Tupa and I'm guessing Gibbs will always go with the veteran. But Groom has a big leg. . . .Also, watch the linebackers in general. The battle for the last few spots is fierce because most, if not all, have shown they can play special teams. A decent player will be cut. So far, Zak Keasey has outplayed draft pick Jared Newberry.

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