There's Still Plenty to Do Before the Opener
Redskins Look to Tune Offense, Erase Mistakes And Settle Final Roster

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 3, 2005

A month of practices and four preseason games did not ease the Washington Redskins' primary training camp concerns. The Redskins (1-3) completed the exhibition schedule with a 26-20 overtime loss Thursday in Baltimore, and with one week of preparation before the home opener, Coach Joe Gibbs will continue tutoring erratic quarterback Patrick Ramsey, refining what was the NFL's 30th-ranked offense and harping on the importance of eliminating mistakes and penalties.

Washington's starting offense produced just two touchdowns in nearly seven preseason quarters, and Ramsey failed to curtail talk of an impending quarterback controversy by throwing just two touchdowns and four interceptions, while veteran backup Mark Brunell shined in all four games. The revamped receiving corps -- smaller and faster -- got downfield and caught some deep passes to improve on that part of the game, yet the Redskins still failed to regularly get in the end zone.

And through it all, untimely and unnecessary penalties and miscues were a concern. Several potentially fruitful drives were derailed by the elementary procedural penalties that plagued the Redskins in 2004, Washington failed to protect the football (a minus-8 turnover differential, worst in the NFC), had occasional time-management issues and again lost replay challenges. Thursday's 15 penalties for 118 yards had much to do with the number of reserves on the field, but the Redskins still averaged over eight penalties per game in the preseason after committing 1,047 yards worth of penalties last season.

"It was a big disappointment for us," Gibbs said of the ongoing penalties. "We talked long and hard about it. It's been a real concern. It's a problem, and we've got to get it corrected."

Ramsey has been in the spotlight since the first day of camp, but never had a breakout performance. His best outing was against Pittsburgh, when he sprayed the ball around and found H-back Chris Cooley in the end zone, but he also was off target on many long passes and had one attempt easily returned by the Steelers for a touchdown. Overall, Ramsey was 30 for 51 in the preseason (58.8 percent), with a 65.8 passer rating, although new receivers Santana Moss and David Patten each caught passes of 40 yards or more.

"We improved on our passing game in the preseason from last year," Ramsey said. "I think if we can get those big plays without turning the ball over, then I think we're going to be successful as a team, and offensively."

Gibbs said: "I have some feelings [about the offense], and I think everybody that watched us could probably draw some conclusions, too. But I think until the bullets start flying you're not going to really know. The proof is going to be how we play in the regular season, not the preseason."

The offensive line improved as the preseason went on, but Ramsey was still sacked four times (Ramsey's pocket presence still suffers at times, when he holds the ball too long). There were flashes of the new running schemes, designed to get back Clinton Portis outside the tackles, and although the Pro Bowl runner carried just 11 times, he averaged over six yards per rush and broke off several dashes of 10 yards or more.

"We accomplished what our [offensive] goals were," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "And that was to make people think about us being able to get downfield and us being able to make big runs. They've got to prepare for all of that now."

Washington also has room for improvement on special teams. New return specialist Antonio Brown was hardly dynamic, penalties were again commonplace on these units, and, because of the freak injury to punter Tom Tupa, the competition between rookie Andy Groom and 16-year veteran Chris Mohr will come down to final cuts today, Gibbs said.

There are no such concerns defensively. The group, which ranked third in the NFL last season despite major injuries, dominated most teams' starting offenses, allowed only one touchdown and thrived again without key starters in many exhibitions. Washington's defense must still create more turnovers, and having playmakers such as Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington and rookie Carlos Rogers back from long-term injuries should help that cause.

Redskins Notes: Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, who missed all four preseason games with a toe injury, was able to take individual drills yesterday for the first time in nearly a month. Jacobs ran routes and was able to cut again, and will receive treatment today and tomorrow in hopes of practicing fully Monday. . . . Running back Ladell Betts (swollen ankle) was able to jog and said he hopes to be back on the field Monday. . . . Safety Matt Bowen, who missed last week with a badly bruised chest, was able to participate in non-contact action and is doing much better. "I feel great," Bowen said. "It's a tremendous improvement. The doctor said it would take a week, and he was right." . . . Running back Nehemiah Broughton (ankle/knee) and safety Ryan Clark (knee) suffered minor injuries Thursday, Gibbs said, but should return to practice by midweek. . . . The Redskins must submit their 53-man roster by 6 p.m. today and completed a preliminary list last night, Gibbs said. The coach was noncommittal on whether return specialist Brown, who struggled Thursday, would make the team. . . . H-back Manuel White, the team's fourth-round pick, was placed on the injured reserve list after breaking his left leg Thursday night and is out for the season.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company