Roster Limit Creates Issues for Redskins

Redskins legends Art Monk and Darrell Green, cheered on by a sea of burgundy and gold, are inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008

During a training camp in which Washington's injuries have accumulated almost daily and in a year in which the Redskins play an extra preseason game, it is either twisted fate or ill-timed luck that the NFL limited training camp rosters to 80 players this summer.

NFL owners did not expand training camp rosters beyond 80 after NFL Europe folded in 2007. NFL teams used to receive five to seven roster exemptions for players designated to play in NFL Europe. An eighth exemption was extended for an international player. This allowed franchises to bring in more free agents and give the starters rest in the wearying days of training camp.

The policy has left the Redskins and teams throughout the NFL thin on the depth chart for two-a-day practices. As the Redskins prepare for tonight's Hall of Fame game against the Indianapolis Colts, Coach Jim Zorn is forced to distribute playing time differently than he would with more players.

"All of them will get more reps," Zorn said. "There will be veterans who have been here who will get more reps, and there will be rookies who have to get a lot of reps as well."

Although Zorn will limit many of the marquee players, he acknowledged that older veterans must play more than they are used to in the preseason. Fred Smoot, who is entering his eighth season, might be one of the players whose role will differ.

"It ups the reps of the higher-end guys," Smoot said. "It's most definitely a big change. . . . You get the wrong person hurt, and you got to throw in a guy that's valuable to your team, and it can [affect] some people down the line."

Entering training camp, the Redskins knew the roster limit would create an issue. As a veteran-laden team, depth becomes a necessity to alleviate injury or fatigue. Having six or seven fewer bodies in camp leaves almost every position short-handed.

"It's harder with more veteran guys, because then you can have few extra guys who can take reps during practice that they didn't have to," said Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations. "That's kind of a hindrance. Same thing with playing in the games. You don't have seven or eight guys to take some reps from guys who are going to play only four to five plays, but now they're going to play more because we don't have the numbers. So it makes things a little more tricky because people have to take a lot more reps than they would."

Cerrato said the Redskins were left particularly thin on the offensive line, in the secondary and on the defensive line. Zorn, a former quarterback, said he wanted to enter training camp with five quarterbacks, but the roster limit held the Redskins to four.

Longtime offensive line coach Joe Bugel remembered when the Redskins used to have more than 100 players in training camp. He said the limited numbers affect his offensive line because he ordinarily would want a line that goes three deep at each position -- 15 players overall. The Redskins instead practice with 14 linemen.

"If you have any guys hurt at that position, it could be devastating," Bugel said. "That's a tough rule, 80. Especially when you have that extra game and you come to camp early, you have to be very careful how you practice."

Pete Kendall, a guard in his 13th season, recognized the limit is not ideal but acknowledged every team is facing the same predicament. Kendall said injuries might occur to a second-string player instead of third-stringers who end up playing a bulk of the preseason games.

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