As quarterback Colt McCoy tells it, there are plenty of reasons to be uncertain heading into the first preseason game – neither team has a great sense of what the other will run, how it will compete, or how complex the play calls will be.
But watching him conduct the offense in the first half of Thursday night’s 26-17 preseason opening loss against the New England Patriots, and watching his wide receivers play with the same poise they’ve had at training camp the last two weeks, McCoy was at least certain about how his weapons would respond under the lights.
Which is to say, very well. Under center for nearly two quarters, McCoy deflected all the credit of his sharp night passing – he threw 13-of-18 for 189 yards and two touchdowns – to his receivers, both out wide and out of the backfield, which came out crisp and effective.
“Listen, I just distributed the football, those guys did a great job of getting open and running great routes,” McCoy said. “I had good protection, and I think that's what you want to see in this first game.”
Wide receivers Maurice Harris, Robert Davis and Cam Sims combined for eight catches,131 yards and a touchdown, which Harris caught in the second quarter to give the Redskins a 17-0 lead at the time, dragging his foot by the sideline on McCoy’s bootleg throw.
“I'm telling you there's a dog fight at wide out right now,” McCoy told reporters by his locker. “I mean, Maurice is playing lights out, Cam has come in and really got in to his playbook, he's a big target, he's fast, he's strong. You know, Robert's making plays, he made a couple of nice grabs for me today. He did a nice job versus man-to-man coverage…Brian Quick had a great camp. He's got a little thigh bruise but I know he'll be back pretty quick. Those guys are really talented and fun to work with.”
The quick pace started with eight-yard and 11-yard passes to Harris by the sideline, as McCoy began the first drive of the game with manageable passes on loose coverage. On the second offensive series, McCoy targeted Robert Davis after a couple of Derrius Guice runs, converting a first down on a 20-yard crossing route over the middle.
Both receivers credited the quick start to preparation and practice, which translated seamlessly in the team’s first test of adversity.
“You know we go to practice and practice all of the plays and techniques and things like that and you want to execute them in the game, so we’ve got to continue to work but it feels good to be able to take it from practice to the game,” Harris said.
“Preparing all week, that’s something that Coach Gruden really instills in us,” Davis said. “We just went out there, and we preached that we wanted to start fast and we were able to do that.”
The biggest play of the night came from Cam Sims, the undrafted Alabama product, whose size and speed have intrigued the Redskins. He used it in full effect Thursday, hauling in a pass down the sideline that he grabbed while backpedaling, then ducking under a defender, for a 57-yard catch and run to the two-yard line.
“It was a Cover-2,” Simms said. “I had a go-route so I slipped him inside, and Colt [McCoy] threw a great pass and I caught it. I just thought the safety was going to blow me up and he missed so I was off to the races."
Two plays later, McCoy found Harris in the end zone, rolling out to his left and threading the needle for the score. “He’s a great player,” Harris said of McCoy. “We rep that every day in practice and try to translate it to the game so I think it worked out pretty well for us today a little bit."
Head coach Jay Gruden mentioned on Tuesday that the first preseason game would be a good indication of the team’s depth and provide an opportunity to evaluate specific position battles that will be tightly contested in the weeks to come. After one game, the wide receiver unit remains considerably deep and showed no signs of making Gruden’s decision any easier down the road.
“It was good to see some other guys get out there and make plays,” Harris said. “That’s what we try to do: make plays, catch the ball and score. I think we have a lot to learn from the film and stuff like that, but I think we’re making positive steps forward.”