The full slate of games to conclude the preseason Thursday night is something of a tease. Unless you have a friend or relative trying out for an NFL squad, there’s little reason to pay attention.
Still, slivers of intrigue can slip through, as is the case in Baltimore when the Ravens host their nearby rivals, the Washington Redskins.
Robert Griffin III, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year whose subsequent seasons have been marred by injuries, will face the team that chose him second overall that year and made the playoffs behind him.
While RG3 has, by all accounts, had a solid summer, there’s no guarantee he will make the Ravens, who have Joe Flacco entrenched as the starter and first-round draftee Lamar Jackson as his understudy.
“I think Robert has done everything we’ve asked him to do and more,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s everything he’s always been as a player, he’s back on his feet, he’s healthy, he’s in a new environment, new situation. He’s had great success, and then Haloti (Ngata) fell on him. That’ll hurt anybody’s career! Right?”
After the laughter subsided, Harbaugh added, “So, I think he’s back from that finally, and he had a heck of a summer, and he’s played very well.”
Whether that’s good enough to make the roster, or draw interest from elsewhere, well, who knows?
Regardless, Griffin recognizes the value of the journey.
“The thing I feel like I’ve learned the most about is who I am as a player, a better understanding of my strengths and my weaknesses, and then how to counteract that,” he said.
“I know where I’ve come up short in my career. One of those is being available, and I think I’ve proven throughout the preseason that I’ve learned how to protect myself, while also still playing aggressively, and I think that’s something that I didn’t really do earlier on in my career. I was a little reckless.
“Everybody thinks they’re Superman. I had to learn that I am human, but there are some things that God has blessed me to be able to do that other guys cannot do, and I have to maximize those things. I think that’s where I’ve come along the most.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden has to decide which and how many running backs to take after Adrian Peterson quickly emerged as the starter, with Samaje Perine, Rob Kelley and Kapri Bibbs in competition for two spots as complements to third-down back Chris Thompson.
Miami’s reserves were awful against the Ravens last game, especially the offensive line and defense. Miami was outscored by Baltimore 24-0 in the second half.
The Falcons will use the final preseason game to again protect the health of starters Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, among others, Jones and Freeman have been held out of all the preseason games for precautionary reasons given their injury histories, but neither has missed practice.
LAST CHANCE FOR BARKLEY
The Colts–Bengals game is the last chance for Matt Barkley to convince the Bengals he’s dependable as the No. 2 quarterback. The spot opened when AJ McCarron won his grievance, gained free agency and went to Buffalo. The Bengals signed Barkley, and he’s competed with Jeff Driskel, who missed all of last season with a broken hand. So far, Driskel has put up slightly better numbers, completing 63 percent of his passes with a rating of 89.1. Barkley has completed 51.5 percent with a rating of 71.5.
Jacoby Brissett will back up Andrew Luck for the Colts, and given Luck’s recent injury history, Indy needs Brissett to stay upright and healthy. Yet he likely will play at Cincinnati.
Jake Rudock has been in the NFL for two seasons and attempted a total of five passes, and his future became even more unclear when the Lions signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel this offseason. With Matthew Stafford the starter — he hasn’t missed a game since the 2010 season — Detroit is hoping the backup quarterback spot won’t be relevant this year, but it’s still a battle worth watching. Rudock has completed 72 percent of his passes this preseason.
After going 1-31 under Hue Jackson so far, Cleveland is most interested in establishing some sort of winning spirit, so some regulars could wind up in action against the Lions.
CALL US WHEN IT GETS COLD
This is always a fun matchup when the Patriots and Giants face off — in the fall or winter or Super Bowl. With few if any recognizable faces in action at MetLife Stadium, not much to look at here. Odell Beckham Jr., became the highest-paid receiver in NFL history this week, but he won’t begin earning his money until the regular season.
DIBS ON DOBBS?
Steelers quarterback Josh Dobbs will almost certainly be on an NFL roster in a week. It just might not be in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Mason Rudolph are locks to make the team, though Dobbs will start the exhibition finale against Carolina. Dobbs, who has thrown for a team-high three touchdowns and completed 68 percent of his passes during the preseason, says he’s focused on putting good film on tape and not his future.
There’s a chance the Steelers could keep him when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Saturday and then trade him to bolster depth needs in several areas, including offensive line.
Cam Newton will sit out as Taylor Heinicke and Garrett Gilbert battle for the Panthers’ No. 2 quarterback spot. Heinicke appears to have the upper hand and will play the first quarter.
Tight end Nick O’Leary, running back Travaris Cadet and perhaps even quarterback AJ McCarron will get one last opportunity to make the Bills roster at Chicago. O’Leary has dropped down the depth chart behind Jason Croom and Khari Lee, while Cadet has fallen behind Marcus Murphy for the No. 3 spot on the roster. As for McCarron, his roster spot will depend on whether the Bills keep three quarterbacks.
McCarron slipped behind returning backup Nathan Peterman and first-round draft pick Josh Allen in what’s been an offseason-long quarterback competition. McCarron missed nearly a week of practice with a bruised right throwing shoulder before being cleared on Monday.
New Bears coach Matt Nagy sat his starters last week, so don’t expect them to break a sweat at Soldier field.
IN A RUSH
Dallas quarterback Cooper Rush needs a better showing against Houston to ease questions about the backup to Dak Prescott. Rush won the No. 2 job as a rookie in the preseason last year with six touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 75 percent of his passes. The percentage is down to 65 percent, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Both picks came in the Cowboys’ eight-turnover loss to Arizona.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien didn’t rule out some starters playing a bit, but don’t expect to see stars such as quarterback Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt on the field.
“It depends on what you qualify as a starter (but) I think — yeah, I think you’ll see some guys in there that could end up potentially starting games for us in the regular season, yes,” O’Brien said.
Christian Hackenberg gets his first audition with the Eagles against his former team. A second-round pick by the Jets in 2016, Hackenberg never took a snap in two seasons for New York. He signed with the Eagles as the No. 5 quarterback during training camp and should get plenty of action Thursday. The guy who likely is the future for the Jets, Sam Darnold, won’t likely get on the field in this one, and New York traded Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints on Wednesday.
NFC TITLE PREVIEW?
Perhaps that comes when the Rams and Saints face off on Nov. 4. For now, the Rams will stick with their approach of letting as few starters as possible get on the field in preseason, while the Saints are trying to get first-round draft choice DE Marcus Davenport more work. While coach Sean Payton tends to err on the side of preserving the health of key players late in the preseason, Davenport is in need of more action because of a groin pull that sidelined him for the first two preseason contests. During the offseason, Payton said one of his top priorities was improving the pass rush. Davenport was drafted to do just that, but it’s not yet clear when he’ll be ready to play a substantial role.
The Buccaneers don’t plan to play suspended quarterback Jameis Winston in their preseason finale against the Jaguars, which means the next time he will be eligible to practice or play will be after his three-game league suspension.
After losing their top wideout, Marqise Lee, to a knee injury last weekend, don’t look for any Jaguars starters to sniff the field.
WIN ONE FOR VRABEL
The Titans have company being winless this preseason with defending champ Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Atlanta and Miami at 0-3. Mike Vrabel is the new coach in that group still looking for a first win before the regular season opens Sept. 9 in Miami.
Asked if Thursday night’s game with the Vikings matters, the man who won three Super Bowl rings as a linebacker with New England said, “Every time we go out on the field should matter. The adage that it’s just preseason, every time that any one of us go out there, we should be expected to play as a starter.”
The Vikings have a competition for the final two or three wide receiver spots, behind Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell. The group includes undrafted rookies Chad Beebe and Jake Wieneke as well as CFL product Brandon Zylstra. The most experienced entrant in the competition is Kendall Wright, the 2012 first-round draft pick by the Titans.
The Packers are expected to give DeShone Kizer plenty of work after trading backup quarterback Brett Hundley to the Seahawks. Kizer was acquired in the offseason from Cleveland, which went winless with Kizer doing most of the quarterbacking.
The Chiefs‘ entire draft class is competing for backup jobs. That includes second-rounder Breeland Speaks at linebacker, Derrick Nnadi at defensive tackle and Tremon Smith at cornerback.
LYNCH’S SWAN SONG?
QB Chad Kelly will start for the Broncos and Paxton Lynch will finish at Arizona in what could be the former first-rounder’s last game with the Broncos. Kelly, who spent his rookie season on IR last year, will be making his first start since he was at Ole Miss in 2016.
“It’s going to feel fun to go out there and let it loose right away. You don’t have to sit around and wait, you get to go out there and perform right away,” he said.
Lynch said he doesn’t want a fresh start somewhere else and is hoping to make the team, even as the third quarterback.
Arizona has 16 takeaways in three preseason games, a reflection of new coach Steve Wilks’ philosophy of defensive aggressiveness. Most of the guys who forced those turnovers will be idle against Denver.
FIRST-ROUNDER JAMES TO PLAY
While most of the Chargers‘ starters will rest, first-round pick Derwin James and most of the rookies will play at the 49ers. The Bolts’ coaching staff wants one more chance to determine whether James is ready to start at safety in the season opener, so he will be tested in multiple roles and situations again.
One San Francisco spot that could still be up for grabs is right guard. Coach Kyle Shanahan said the position is Mike Person’s to lose, but 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett showed flashes last week in Indianapolis and still could make a push for the starting role.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden was so disappointed in the play of backup quarterbacks Connor Cook and E.J. Manuel last week that he said the team’s No. 2 QB behind Derek Carr might not be on the roster right now. Cook and Manuel get a last shot to show Gruden they deserve that job when the Raiders visit the Seahawks.
“We’ve turned the ball over too many times,” Gruden said. “That’s number one, and we have to complete some drives, throw the ball more accurately. We have to throw the ball consistently better, take better care of the football and move the offense. That’s what we want to see.”
The Seahawks will test how rookie Shaquem Griffin looks at weakside linebacker with the expectation that K.J. Wright will not be recovered from knee surgery in time for the opener on Sept. 9 at Denver. If Wright isn’t recovered in time, Griffin, who has no left hand, would be the presumptive starter.