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Old 09-03-2004, 12:49 PM   #1
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USA Today! Assessment


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The Redskins enjoyed a mostly successful first preseason under Joe Gibbs, making progress on each of their key goals if not justifying many of the lofty expectations that accompanied the Hall of Fame coach's return.
The first priority was for Washington to complete the learning process. Coaches worked hard to install schemes during the offseason but still needed to get players reacting instead of thinking in camp.

For the most part, that goal was accomplished. Although coaches on both sides of the ball kept their packages very vanilla, the units, particularly the defense, flexed their muscles at times.

That said, the offense exited the exhibitions still needing some development, especially because the quarterback competition kept the timing between quarterbacks and receivers somewhat sketchy. Expect the unit to remain somewhat lagging in its execution for the first month of the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Antonio Pierce — Regardless of Barrow's health fluctuations, Pierce should see considerable playing time as the No. 4 linebacker. He seems to be coming of age physically after spending the past two seasons behind Jessie Armstead. Tremendous versatility and good toughness.


Rd. 1/5, S Sean Taylor, Miami — What a player. After a rough offseason in which his decision-making was scrutinized, he torched opponents during the preseason. Amazing range permits him to make plays across the field. Expect a half-dozen interceptions, maybe as many forced fumbles.

Rd. 3/81, TE Chris Cooley, Utah State — Still developing into an NFL blocker after impressive career as a pass catcher in college. Gibbs will find a way to get him 30-40 catches a season once he matures—which might not be this season.

Rd. 5/151, T Mark Wilson, California — He's blocking with power and showing decent footwork. The Redskins would like to protect him if they've got the roster room.

Rd. 6/180, T Jim Molinaro, Notre Dame — Similar to Wilson, Molinaro is showing potential though needs to improve his quickness and footwork. He could blossom in coming years.

QUARTERBACK: Starter — Mark Brunell. Backups — Patrick Ramsey, Tim Hasselbeck.

Brunell emerged over Ramsey in a competition that never held much drama. A three-time Pro Bowl pick with the Jaguars, Brunell retains solid mobility as his 34th birthday approaches and observers can expect competent (but probably not spectacular) play. He wasn't terribly accurate or aggressive during the preseason, but that could be a function of his experience and patience. Ramsey appears to have taken a step back from the occasional glittering performances he put up in Steve Spurrier's system. Perhaps he was just pouting this summer in the wake of Brunell's acquisition. Hasselbeck continued to demonstrate, in a modest way, that he has a future in the league.

RUNNING BACK: Starter — Clinton Portis. Backups — Ladell Betts, John Simon, Sultan McCullough, Rock Cartwright.

If Portis can stay healthy, he should be all the Redskins hoped when the traded star CB Champ Bailey for him. Portis runs with terrific power for a 205-pound frame and always is pushing North-South. The big issue is if he gets injured—none of the backups approaches his talent. Betts retains some NFL potential but spent most of the preseason on the shelf with a hamstring strain. He's on the verge of being labeled injury-prone. Simon, McCullough and Cartwright appeared to be competing for one spot. Simon presents the most veteran influence and best special-teams potential; McCullough still has a chance to be a true NFL tailback; and Cartwright is a gritty performer whose heart is nearly as big as his 5-7, 223-pound body.

TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starters — TE Walter Rasby, HB Mike Sellers. Backups — TE Robert Royal, TE Fred Baxter, HB Brian Kozlowski, HB Chris Cooley.

No complaints so far of Rasby, a dedicated veteran who can handle blocking defensive ends in one-on-one matchups. He'll be an important, if sometimes hard-to-detect, component in Gibbs' offense. Prototypically sized Sellers so far seems to be Gibbs' favorite option at H-back. He'll catch a pass or two and but his main strength is blocking. The converse is Cooley, Washington's third-round draft pick. He has terrific hands but remains somewhat suspect in protection and the run game. Royal continues to develop and could emerge as Rasby's backup over Baxter, who sprained his knee in the preseason and hasn't returned. Kozlowski is another veteran option at H-back.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Laveranues Coles, Rod Gardner. Backups — James Thrash, Darnerien McCants, Taylor Jacobs, Gari Scott.

The toe injury of Laveranues Coles hasn't been a hot topic in recent weeks but remains an ominous part of the upcoming season. It's doubtful that Coles will make it through the whole year—or at least be full-strength all year—on a slightly fractured toe that never healed as hoped. Gardner, perpetual trade bait, must up his yards per catch (just 10.2 last year). Thrash sparkled at times this preseason and appears firmly entrenched as the No. 3 receiver. Expect McCants to score five or six touchdowns on fewer than 30 catches, as has become his penchant. However, the tall, swift receiver remains too raw to become an every-down threat. Jacobs had good moments in camp and still could fulfill the potential that got him drafted in last year's second round. Gibbs has been impressed with his route-running and attention to detail. Star-crossed Scott might not make the roster but turned a few heads in August.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Chris Samuels, LG Derrick Dockery, C Lennie Friedman, RG Randy Thomas, RT Kenyatta Jones. Backups — T Marcus Spriggs, T Mark Wilson, T Jim Molinaro, G Ray Brown, C Cory Raymer.

Perhaps the key note on this unit is who isn't listed—RT Jon Jansen, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the Hall of Fame Game. Jansen's role was assumed by Jones, who appears solid in run blocking but somewhat suspect in pass blocking. The expectation is for coaches to hedge against the latter with backs and tight ends helping out in protection. Samuels appears primed for a rebound year and forms a sharp tandem with Dockery, a second-year player who is blossoming. Thomas must overcome nagging injuries and the departure of Jansen but, like Dockery, provides line coach Joe Bugel with terrific mobility and thus blocking options. Friedman, something of an up-and-comer, outplayed Raymer at center without too much trouble. Spriggs and Brown were signed as veteran insurance in the wake of Jansen's setback. Brown, who will be 42 by season's end, still appears to be in good shape. Wilson and Molinaro aren't ready for game action but have shown potential.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LDE Renaldo Wynn, DT Cornelius Griffin, NT Brandon Noble, RDE Phillip Daniels. Backups — DE Regan Upshaw, DE Ron Warner, DT Jermaine Haley, NT Joe Salave'a.

The right end position is of utmost concern. Washington couldn't land Miami's Adewale Ogunleye. Although the coaches love Daniels, he wasn't much of a sack artist last season and spent most of this preseason nursing an abdomen strain. Wynn is playing his best football as a Redskin, but that's not saying a whole lot. It's doubtful that he and Griffin can provide the pass rush defensive chief Gregg Williams needs, and thus linebackers will be a crucial part of defensive pressure. Noble didn't suffer any serious setbacks to the knee he blew up in the 2003 preseason, but it's uncertain whether he can be much of a force. Upshaw and Warner aren't compelling options at end. Haley and Salave'a, similarly, can play some snaps but don't cure the fundamental lack of potency on this unit.

LINEBACKER: Starters — SLB Marcus Washington, MLB Mike Barrow, WLB LaVar Arrington. Backups — Antonio Pierce, Lemar Marshall, Clifton Smith.

Washington and Arrington will anchor this defense. The pair of versatile, physically gifted linebackers can rush, stop the run and (more in Washington's case than Arrington's) cover. The move to weak side should be a boon to Arrington, who is far superior chasing ball carriers than working at the point of attack. Barrow has been sidelined by tendinitis in his knee virtually the entire preseason. The injury has lingered and now appears likely to be problematic heading into the regular season. Pierce has thrilled coaches, emerging as the No. 4 linebacker capable of playing any of the three positions. Expect him to see a lot of snaps for Barrow. Marshall and Smith both seem to possess solid potential.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Shawn Springs, CB Fred Smoot, FS Sean Taylor, SS Matt Bowen. Backups — CB Walt Harris, CB Rashad Bauman, CB Rufus Brown, CB Garnell Wilds, S Andre Lott, S Todd Franz.

Bailey will be missed in this group. Springs doesn't run particularly quickly and frankly doesn't seem to want it very badly. Smoot has all the enthusiasm in the world but gets turned around by good receivers. Harris remains the odds-on third corner but didn't play much in the preseason while rehabbing from knee surgery over the winter. Height-challenged Bauman isn't an inspiring option at corner but might have to do if Harris, who also has been nagged by a calf injury, can't play. Brown and Wilds fit into the good-prospect/need-experience category. At safety, Taylor has looked like a Pro Bowl player from the moment he played his first exhibition. Provided he can keep up such aggressiveness and not get too twisted by regular-season schemes, he'll shine. Bowen can support the run but is no great shakes in coverage. Lott got quite a bit of playing time in the preseason and seems to have impressed coaches. Franz is a good option in dime situations or on teams.
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Old 09-03-2004, 01:24 PM   #2
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Old 09-03-2004, 01:54 PM   #3
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Thanks for the link.
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Old 09-03-2004, 02:17 PM   #4
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Did they forget to review the 3rd most important element on the team, which quite possible might be our strength if not our sole. Special Teams.
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Old 09-03-2004, 10:55 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by CRT3
Did they forget to review the 3rd most important element on the team, which quite possible might be our strength if not our sole. Special Teams.
Yep, George Allen was the first NFL coach to put an importance on special teams....can't overlook them.
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