By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Two weeks ago, when the Washington Redskins' training camp began, little intrigue existed. The starting lineups, both offense and defense, appeared well established, and with the exception of weak-side linebacker, the early weeks of practice featured few prime position battles.
But two days before the Redskins play their second preseason game -- Saturday night at FedEx Field against the New York Jets -- the combination of injuries and uneven performances have thrown uncertainty into what had been a fairly uncomplicated preseason. Over the last four days, the Redskins have suffered injuries to starting cornerback Shawn Springs and running back Clinton Portis, made a trade and brought in a host of new players they hope will begin to resolve the unexpected but growing question of depth.
Because of the injuries and signings -- the Redskins have turned over eight players this week -- Coach Joe Gibbs referred to his reserve situation as "unsettled."
The result is a sudden urgency on the part of Redskins coaches to find out quickly which players will be able to provide them the solid reinforcements that allow good teams to survive injuries. There also is urgency for the new players, who must grasp the Redskins' complicated offensive and defensive systems without much time to learn or impress.
"It's a teamwide thing. We need to find out our chemistry level. Can we say that there are more injuries and turnover this year than any other year?" said running backs coach Earnest Byner, who must deal with injuries to Portis and Kerry Carter, who is lost for the season with a knee injury. "I can't say that for the whole, but for me, personally, yes. This year has been different because it affects the competition level."
The two areas of greatest concern are the defensive backfield, where the injuries to Springs, and, to a lesser extent, Ade Jimoh prompted a trade for defensive back Mike Rumph. Rumph, who will be expected to play a significant role at cornerback and possibly at safety, practiced for the first time yesterday, after being acquired from San Francisco.
"I really want to make a first impression, and play good and make my statement," Rumph said. "It's a really high learning curve. The defense is very complex. But like I said, I learned similar defenses, so it's not as bad as I thought, but the terminology is something that I have to get down."
In addition to Rumph, the Redskins signed linebacker Jeff Posey, who was released by Buffalo a week and a half ago. Posey replaced Chris Clemons, who had been behind Marcus Washington on the depth chart at strong-side linebacker but tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Clemons played on pass rushing downs last season in place of LaVar Arrington and expected to play a larger role this season.
Apart from injuries, the coaches were unimpressed by their second-line players in the first preseason game. While Clemons was lost for 10 weeks, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said yesterday he was in danger of not making the team. Kenny Wright, acquired as a free agent, struggled against Cincinnati, including a critical pass interference call. Also against the Bengals, rookie safety Reed Doughty was beaten on a trick play, a 52-yard flea-flicker.
"When the younger guys came in, we had a few guys that had to learn a few hard lessons," Williams said. "The first play you make in a National Football League game you get beat on a flea-flicker you probably won't forget the rest of your life, because I won't let you forget it. I haven't let them forget it every day in practice and in every meeting. If they have to walk by in the hallway with me I'm going to remind them every single day, but obviously I didn't communicate it very well before I put you in the game and you look stupid like that."
Offensively, the Redskins coaches were disappointed with their second-unit line, long considered a potential trouble spot. With the exception of injured lineman Jim Molinaro, every player expected to contribute -- center Mike Pucillo, left tackle Tyson Walter and right guard Chris Pino -- is new to the team. Also, the Redskins have installed a new offense under associate head coach-offense Al Saunders, so learning on the fly is essential.
"We're getting ready for Minnesota, and the guys coming in right now will probably not play an important part in that game, so we can't stop now," Saunders said.
"We can't take a step back to take someone who is not familiar with what we're doing and get him to the level that we're trying to have him perform. So they've got to kind of grab on by the seat of their pants. And if it came to pass that they had to be involved in what we're doing, then we would limit what we're doing to try to accommodate them. But we can't take a step back now."