Redskins Emerge Safe and Sound
Friday, August 31, 2007
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Aug. 30 -- For the first time in four preseason games, Joe Gibbs could breathe easy. His franchise quarterback-in-the-making, Jason Campbell, came back from a minor knee injury to lead a scoring drive on the Washington Redskins' first possession of the game, and by the midpoint of the first quarter all of the Redskins' starters were on the bench and in relatively good health, accomplishing Gibbs's overriding goal for this summer.
His perfect scenario unfolded in the preseason finale at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on a night when almost nothing besides Campbell's production and keeping players healthy mattered. The Redskins, who kept tackle Chris Samuels and tailback Clinton Portis out of the game, lost 31-14 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, but that result will be entirely forgotten. Establishing some offensive confidence and finding a rhythm and tempo to take into the regular season were all the Redskins could ask from the fourth preseason game -- a game that typically is star-free and drama-less. The starting defense did not play and all but the lower echelons of the roster seems set ahead of Saturday's final cuts.
"The biggest thing for me is getting on to the regular season . . . and you want to try to get there as healthy as you can," Gibbs said.
There was one minor scare -- Campbell was crunched by reserve defensive lineman Walter Curry but was uninjured -- on an otherwise perfect opening drive. Campbell, who had suffered a bruised knee when he was bashed from his blind side in the second preseason game against Pittsburgh, moved well to either side. He did not twitch in the face of the pass rush despite lingering memories of Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel nearly ending his season and overcame any rust from his layoff with an accurate touch. He completed 5 of 5 pass attempts for 54 yards and a touchdown.
"The only thing I was nervous about was taking a lick on my knee," said Campbell, who called his ability to withstand Curry's charge "a confidence boost."
While Campbell was judged fit enough to participate -- "It felt pretty good," he said of his knee -- others were not.
The Redskins, who finished 2-2 in the preseason, have been unable to get their entire first-team offense on the field at the same time this preseason, but for a few drills before kickoff, the unit was together. Portis and Samuels, who have missed every exhibition game, were in uniform and warmed up before the game. Each tested his injured knee slightly more than in the past, but neither was in the lineup.
"Discretion was the better part of valor," Gibbs said of Portis.
Portis and Samuels will go into next weekend's opener feeling their way, not having taken a real hit or competed against an opponent in a month or more. Starting left guard Pete Kendall made his Redskins debut a week after being acquired from the Jets, and he, too, will be less than 100 percent come Sept. 9. Though physically fit, he never will have played with Samuels, his left-side partner, and still is getting acquainted with teammates and the scheme. Kendall came off with the entire starting offense after the scoring drive, admittedly not yet versed in the nuances of this scheme.
"It was very encouraging to go out there and have a drive end like that," Kendall said. "But I've still got a long way to go."
Jacksonville took a tempered approach to this game -- keeping starting quarterback Byron Leftwich out of the game and using second- and third-string players on the starting defense -- but the Redskins were intent on scoring and scoring quickly, with their offensive production largely static again this preseason. They took a 7-0 lead on a clinical march, moving 70 yards on eight plays.
Campbell hit wide receiver Santana Moss on a screen pass, then found tight end Chris Cooley on successive plays. Tailback Ladell Betts was yanked from the game after that play, and on his first play, Rock Cartwright slashed through the defense for 16 yards, the first significant run for the team this preseason. (Washington came into the game with the worst exhibition ground game in the NFL.)
On second and seven, Campbell dumped off to Mike Sellers just before Curry leapt on his head, and two plays later Campbell closed the drive with a 23-yard lob to Antwaan Randle El, who pulled the ball out of the air and tumbled into the end zone.
Veteran Mark Brunell, clinging to the backup job with Todd Collins, performed well after the starters left in the stadium he used to call home (5 of 6 for 47 yards and a touchdown), adding to the offense's feel-good vibe.
"It was fun to score in this stadium," Brunell said.
The defenses required no such fine-tuning. With the starters set and all appearing well, the coaches handed the entirety of this game over to the reserves, though starting defensive tackle Kedric Golston played the first quarter. There are intriguing roster battles at several spots, with unknown rookies emerging on a defense that is undergoing a youth movement. The fourth preseason game is, as a rule, the least important, but for players such as defensive end Chris Wilson, cornerbacks John Eubanks and Leigh Torrence, veteran safety Vernon Fox and fourth-year defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti, the outing meant everything.
It could be the difference between having a hefty paycheck or looking for work, looking for an apartment in Ashburn or returning home. Their futures will be determined Friday, as the coaches spend all day watching game film, haggling over the final roster spots and picking the 53 players to take into the opener.