If 2020 had given us a normal NFL preseason, then the first game of the year would have been played this week in Canton, Ohio. However, 2020 hasn’t been normal, and there will be no preseason due to the pandemic. To keep players safe, the NFL decided in July that all 65 preseason games would be canceled this year.
For a team like Washington, not being able to play any preseason games definitely isn’t a good thing. With a first-year coach in Ron Rivera and a lot of positional battles to figure out during training camp, four preseason games would have provided a lot of player film for Rivera, which in turn would have gone a long way for helping him put together his final roster.
Although Rivera won’t have the luxury of preseason games this year, Washington’s new coach does believe the cancellation of the preseason will give his team one — and only one — advantage heading into the regular season: No one knows anything about his team.
“The one advantage we have is that no one is really going to know what we do once we start playing football again,” Rivera said during a recent interview, via NBC Sports Washington. “That is really the only advantage we will have.”
The upside for Washington is that the team’s early opponents won’t have any idea what Rivera’s team plans to do on either offense or defense.
“To me, the only advantage that we have is that we are a mystery,” Rivera said. “Some of the teams that have the same coaches, those things are pretty much set.”
When Rivera mentions those other teams, he’s likely referring to organizations like New Orleans and Kansas City. For instance, the Chiefs will be returning 18 of 22 starters after winning the Super Bowl last season, so they probably won’t be hurt too much by the lack of a preseason. On the other hand, a team like Washington probably could have used the four canceled preseason games to answer many of the roster questions that Rivera is going to have to deal with between now and final cuts on Sept. 5.
“Everything is a big question mark right now. It is really,” Rivera said. “What is our combination going to be at running back? What is our combination at receiver? Defensive line shape? How is our offensive line shaping up? There are so many questions that haven’t been answered or we haven’t even started on yet.”
Oh, and there’s one more big question that Rivera didn’t even mention: Who’s going to be the starting quarterback?
One month ago, it looked like the obvious answer to that question was Dwayne Haskins, but with Alex Smith now getting healthy, that’s kind of thrown a wrench into Washington’s quarterback situation. Smith, who has been out since November of 2018 when he suffered a broken tibia and fibula that later required 17 surgeries, has slowly gotten better and could be competing for the starting job this year.
The former No. 1 overall pick recently worked out for four straight days, proving that his durability is slowly returning, and now, Rivera is taking him seriously as a candidate for the quarterback job.
“I can envision it,” Rivera said of Smith battling Haskins to be the team’s Week 1 starter. “The big thing is: If he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he’ll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells … We’ll see how he is this week and we’ll go from there.”
It’s not ideal for a team to not know who its starting quarterback is going to be in August, but it does give Washington an added element of mystery, and that mystery is now the team’s biggest advantage heading into the 2020 season.