WASHINGTON -- Evan Royster has never been through anything like it. Not in high school in Virginia, not in college at Penn State. He's a sixth-round draft pick who started at Square One two weeks ago learning the complex NFL playbook of the Washington Redskins' offense.
And now he's got a game to play.
"It's almost like not going to class for a whole semester -- and then trying to cram for a final exam," he said.
Preseason NFL games are already notoriously sloppy, over-long and sleep-inducing, but things should be more adventurous than usual this time around. No one is expecting a clinic when the Redskins host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night.
"I know everybody will run full speed," Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall said. "But things won't be as clean as they normally would."
The NFL lockout kept teams from holding offseason conditioning sessions, minicamps and other workouts. Usually by now most everyone is in football shape and well versed in the Xs and Os. Not this year.
"Nobody's been through a situation like this ever," Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. "It's quite different, but everybody's under the same microscope. Everybody's adhering to the same rules, so you've got to make sure you've got the edge. ... I think you understand that mistakes are going to happen."
Well, it's not quite the same for everybody. A quick comparison of the rosters proves that.
The Steelers are the reigning AFC champs and a hallmark of stability. All 22 starting jobs are pretty much set, barring injury or unexpected performances in preseason or training camp. The team signed only one veteran free agent -- tight end John Gilmore, listed as third-string on the depth chart -- in the mad rush following the end of the lockout.
Redskins fans must look at that last fact and wrinkle their brows. Only one veteran free agent? Owner Dan Snyder could match that total in his sleep. Washington has added a least a dozen veteran free agents to a team that has finished last in the NFC East for three years running.
Conversely, the Redskins have only 18 pre-2011 draft picks on their roster. The Steelers have 31. Washington is trying to figure who's going to start at quarterback, running back and receiver, while the best drama Pittsburgh can offer are battles for third-string quarterback, No. 5 receiver and punter.
In other words, the Redskins have a lot more to accomplish in August with a lot of new people. The debut, therefore, could be quite messy.
"May be more sloppy, but we'll adjust," said Washington defensive tackle Barry Cofield, a free-agent signing from the New York Giants. "You may understand that your technique and certain things like that might not be there, but your effort and your mentality and your aggressiveness have to be there regardless. So it may not be perfect, but as long as guys are flying around and playing hard, I think we'll be happy."
John Beck and Rex Grossman are competing for the Redskins starting quarterback spot, but Beck might not play after a tweaked groin kept him from taking part in a full practice this week. Grossman said his goal for the game is to "be real efficient, have a couple of scoring drives, and get out of there."
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said his starters will play about 10 snaps or fewer, the usual for a first preseason game.
Despite the rushed preparation, there was no consultation between the coaches as to how to approach the game. Dallas coach Jason Garrett said he had planned to call Denver counterpart John Fox before the Cowboys-Broncos game Thursday night to make sure they were on the same page, but that's not Shanahan's style -- or Tomlin's.
"First of all, I don't think it's legal," Shanahan said. "Second thing is I've always been under the mind-set that whatever the other team wants to do, we've got to be ready for."
Added Tomlin: "I'd just as soon show up and play. I don't care what they do."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press