First of all, preseason results are every bit as meaningless as you've heard. Players not fighting for a roster spot will (rightfully) not be playing at full effort. No gameplanning will be done to exploit the opponent's weaknesses and tendencies. Playcalling will be based not on game situation but on what the coaches want to have on film to guide the next week's practices. With that in mind, here are brief notes on what I think should be ignored during tomorrow night's preseason opener against the Ravens and what may be worth paying attention to.
Almost everything about the performance of the starting offense - There is no reason to think they will have their timing down at this early stage, and many of the aging veterans will have limited playing time and will be going at half speed. Also, they are going against one of the best defenses in the NFL with no gameplanning. If the starting offense has nothing but three-and-outs, it's not yet time to panic. And it most certainly is not time to declare that Jason Campbell is an ineffective starting quarterback.
Chad Rinehart - It's looking more and more likely that he will be starting in place of Randy Thomas for this game, and Thomas' injury concerns make it a very real possibility that Rinehart could be our starting guard this season. Rinehart struggled mightily as a rookie, but reportedly the difference between this year and last is night and day. Don't worry if he doesn't distinguish himself - this is the Ravens defense after all - but if he looks totally lost we could have a problem.
The role of the new running backs - Anthony Alridge is hurt and apparently won't be playing. But watch how Dominique Dorsey is used to see if Zorn is seriously trying to integrate one of these guys into the offense. Also watch if Eddie Williams is used as all, and if he is being used to add to the offensive repetoire or if he is more of a roster-filling afterthought.
See if Marcus Mason actually picks up a blitz or two - If he does, then we can discuss his merits as a ballcarrier
The backup quarterback competition - See if Colt Brennan is just given the requisite reps for a third stringer, or if he's being given a real look to unseat Todd Collins. If Collins' playing time is already down, Colt could be moving up the depth chart.
Devin Clark and Jeremy Bridges - Which one of these guys is going to be our primary backup at tackle? Or does one of them even have a chance to unseat Stephon Heyer?
The performance of the starting defensive line - Especially since Haynesworth won't be playing.
Brian Orakpo - His pass-rushing skills have drawn rave reviews in camp. Is that because he's a prodigy or because our line is collapsing? If he succeeds against another opponent we can not only be optimistic about Orakpo but also feel better about Chris Samuels. It will also be worth noting whether he looks comfortable playing in space as a strong-side linebacker.
Jeremy Jarmon - In all likelihood, he will spend '09 merely developing his strength and skills for next season. He is supposedly surpassing expectations. If he is given a lot of snaps and holds his own against quality players, he might have an impact sooner than we thought.
The young cornerbacks - Are Justin Tryon and rookie Kevin Barnes trusted with responibility? If so the Redskins might be working towards upgrading the nickel back position and finding a starter for next year (after Carlos Rogers leaves in free agency). If not we have a whole lot of Fred Smoot ahead of us.
Field goal accuracy - Unless either Shaun Suisham or Dave Rayner is clearly choking under the pressure, the sample size in preseason will be to small for individual made or missed field goals to really mean anything.
Kickoff distance - This tends to be repeatable and, although it often goes unnoticed, leads directly to reduced points scored by the opponent, not to mention better field position when our offense gets the ball back. In my opinion, whichever kicker shows the ability to consistently get kickoffs to the five yard line or beyond should win the job.
Hunter Smith - Is he as good as they say he is? Zorn has talked up Smith's hang time and placement. Let's see if it's legit. With our supposedly strong defense, a punter who can pin the opponent deep in their own territory could be a huge advantage.
Kickoff returns - The NFL has outlawed the wedge on kickoffs returns. Will the new technique look significantly different?
Punt returner - Antwaan Randle-El, Marques Hagans, Keith Eloi, and Domique Dorsey are all going to return punts Thursday. First, see who is given the most serious look. Also, see if any of them demonstrate a decisive first step and show that their first priority is to gain whatever yards are available, rather than to risk a return for zero or negative yards in an attempt to break a big play.