Saturday Will Be a Work Day for the Starters

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 18, 2008

Redskins Coach Jim Zorn plans to give his starters their heaviest workload of the preseason Saturday night, expecting the starters to play most of the first half against the Carolina Panthers. Zorn hopes a few injured players will be able to take part in that game as well, after a slew of veterans and rookies sat out Washington's 13-10 win over the New York Jets on Saturday.

The knee strains suffered by tailback Ladell Betts and starting right guard Randy Thomas at Giants Stadium are minor, Zorn said. Both could miss practice time and may rest against Carolina as well depending on their progress, but there are no concerns for the regular season. "It's not serious," Zorn said.

Starting tailback Clinton Portis, generally averse to any preseason work, will also play against the Panthers; Portis sat out two preseason games to spare his body and carried seven times in his only appearance Aug. 9 against Buffalo. He will be a bigger part of this game.

Washington's starters have played the first quarter to this point, generally getting two full series of work before exiting. Zorn said he does not have a set number of plays for the starters this week, but said they could play deep into the second quarter.

Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, a second-round pick who has been out since the first week of camp with hamstring and knee injuries, is scheduled to return to practice by midweek, Zorn said. It's possible he could get on the field for a few plays this weekend as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. "Based on how he responds, we may see him during the game as well," Zorn said.

Starting free safety LaRon Landry (hamstring) has not practiced fully since the first week of camp and is considered "day-to-day," Zorn said. "We're hoping he'll get work in and play this week as well."

Second-year tackle Stephon Heyer was making strides in practice last week after his knee injury, and could come back for the game, while veteran tackle Todd Wade remained out with a high ankle sprain. Linebacker H.B. Blades returned to practice after having arthroscopic knee surgery early in camp and hopes to play soon. Defensive end Erasmus James is back practicing as he makes a lengthy recovery from knee surgery, but is most likely to play in the final preseason game and not this weekend, Zorn said. Wide receiver Anthony Mix remains out with a rib injury.

Reserve center Justin Geisinger was limited by a strained knee last week, Zorn said, and may be ready to play against Carolina. The Redskins suffered two other injuries to backup players in the win over New York -- linebacker Rian Wallace is out two to three weeks with a dislocated left shoulder, and tight end Jason Goode will miss at least a week with turf toe, Zorn said.

Mason Makes an Impact

Running back Marcus Mason, a Georgetown Prep product, made another strong statement Saturday, rushing nine times for 55 yards (6.1 yards per carry), including a 19-yard gain. Given that the Redskins might keep four running backs on the 53-man roster, with Mason's emergence, Zorn is contemplating how to handle the breakdown of positions.

Rookie wide receivers Kelly and Devin Thomas will not be ready to assume a full load on game day given their prolonged injury absences, which could lead to the club keeping an extra wide receiver on the roster. But there are only so many spots available. Billy McMullen (Virginia) again earned praise from Zorn for his performance Saturday (three catches for 53 yards) and he could end up as the sixth wide receiver on the roster.

Zorn and the staff are trying to settle on certain combinations of players -- agreeing on a set number of wide receivers and running backs to open the season with, for instance.

"I'm not ready to make any decisions, because guys are still working hard," Zorn said. "Everybody's trying to make that last effort to show us that they're worthy of having a spot on this team, but there's tough decisions coming down the road."

Punting Competition

Rookie Durant Brooks handled all of the punts Saturday night, and will watch against Carolina with veteran Derrick Frost getting his turn. Zorn said he will continue to alternate them as their battle for a roster spot goes down to the end of camp. Brooks, a sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, punted six times against the Jets, averaging 43 yards per attempt. His longest punt went 59 yards and he trapped New York inside the 20-yard line once.

"I thought he did a pretty good job, especially in the open field," Zorn said. "We pinned them back a few times. I think he only had one punt where I thought, 'I wish it could have been better.' " . . .

Rookie Thomas gained a new appreciation for life in the NFL while making his debut against the Jets. "Devin had his eyes wide open," Zorn said. "I saw him putting ice down his back [to cool off] in the first quarter. I was thinking, 'That's kind of funny.' He was really tired. It's a hard game." . . .

On Saturday, the Redskins quietly stuffed New York's run game -- the Jets averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, and Washington averaged 8.2 -- and several of the rookie defensive backs again shone.

The Redskins could end up relying heavily on youngsters to fill out the secondary, with safeties Kareem Moore and Chris Horton displaying an ability to deliver big hits and close on the ball. Corners Justin Tryon and Matteral Richardson have made plays as well. Most of the depth in the secondary could be filled by inexperienced players, with the coaches hoping that what they lack in savvy they can compensate for with youthful athleticism.

"The thing I really liked is how active our [defensive backs] were," Zorn said.

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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