They sat beside each other on the Washington Redskins’ bench late in the first half Thursday night, two players with the same last name who could be headed in different directions when cuts come Saturday afternoon.
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Wide receiver Cam Sims, the surprise player kept at the end of last summer, had to wonder whether a once-certain spot on the Washington roster was slipping away. Beside him, Steven Sims Jr. lounged on the aluminum seat staring at a future that has become suddenly bright.
“I treated it like my Super Bowl,” Steven Sims, once a long shot to make the roster, said after the Redskins’ 20-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field.
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And if this final preseason game before cuts are made was indeed Steven Sims’s Super Bowl, he made sure his highlights glowed off the tape Washington’s coaches will watch Friday, with a diving touchdown catch and two slashing, cutting kickoff returns that totaled 80 yards.
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“He’s a little fireball,” said Redskins Coach Jay Gruden, who went on to call him “fun to watch” and declared that “anytime he gets the ball in his hands, it’s exciting.”
No one much around the NFL has talked about the Redskins’ receivers in recent years. There hasn’t been much to say. Washington’s key receivers often have been hurt. And even when healthy they haven’t had much of an impact. But now Washington has a different problem. It’s a problem teams are supposed to like. Cutdown day looms close, and the Redskins actually have more suitable wide receivers than they can retain.
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The Redskins seem unlikely to keep more than six wide receivers. Considering that the starters will be the three who were kept out of Thursday’s game — Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson Jr. and Trey Quinn — and draft picks Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon are all but certain to make the roster, that leaves a large group fighting for the final spot.
A few weeks ago, it would have seemed certain that Cam Sims would win that battle. The team kept him last summer because the coaches loved that he was quick, 6-foot-5 and could jump high for passes. Through last year’s training camp and even in preseason games he made several spectacular catches. But he sprained his ankle on the first kickoff of Washington’s first game last year. The injury was severe enough that doctors had to operate. His season was over before it ever began
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He came back this spring and looked solid in practices but he didn’t have the big catches that he did last summer. On Thursday, he dropped two straight passes from Dwayne Haskins that he should have caught
As the games have gone on, other players have looked better. No one, perhaps, more than Robert Davis, a promising, tall, fast receiver from Georgia State who looked ready to make last year’s team until he ripped apart his knee in a training camp practice. Davis has come back strong from his injury and has often been the team’s best wide receiver in preseason games, scoring Washington’s first two touchdowns this summer on long passes from Case Keenum and Haskins. There is also Darvin Kidsy, who spent last year on the Redskins’ practice squad and understands the offense as well as Brian Quick, an eight-year veteran, who some in the organization regretted cutting before last season
But then Steven Sims, who went undrafted after a solid career at Kansas, came along. His signing in April barely caused a ripple, and through the spring and into the summer his name didn’t generate much discussion. But he kept making catches in training camp. And he added the benefit of being able to return kicks
In recent weeks, Gruden has said that special teams will dictate the team’s final roster decisions. He has also said he needs someone to be a kick returner. Generally only three players have handled kickoffs in camp and through the preseason — running back Shaun Wilson, who injured his ankle two weeks ago; running back Byron Marshall, who seems unlikely to make the roster; and Steven Sims, who had kickoff returns of 41 and 39 yards on Thursday night
“Hopefully I’m the [kick returner Gruden] wants,” Steven Sims said laughing as he packed a bag by his locker
Even if the Redskins trade Doctson, which might be hard to do, they will be left with awkward choices Saturday. They will have to drop players they have liked such as Davis, Cam Sims or Steven Sims, or they will have to do the once-unthinkable and release Doctson 3½ years after making him a first-round pick
But those are decisions for this weekend. On Thursday, two men with the same last name had different feelings after their biggest game of the summer
Steven Sims bounced to the middle of the field at game’s end to shake hands with the Baltimore players
“Today was a big day for me,” he said
Cam Sims was the first player off the field, walking quickly toward the tunnel. He ducked his head and disappeared from the stadium and the glowing lights, his football future far less certain
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