For Redskins, Youth Is Served

By Tracee Hamilton
Monday, August 24, 2009

There were a lot of (wet) jerseys on display in the stands at FedEx Field on Saturday night. (Malkin? Really?) The burgundy-and-gold ones ran the gamut from Riggins to Manley to Taylor to Moss to Orakpo. But many of the players who gave the Redskins their first preseason win of the season were wearing one-of-a-kind apparel -- their own. Wilson, Mitchell, Daniel -- those aren't the big sellers in the team store.

But a lot of young players -- some of whom will soon find themselves out of a job -- were responsible for the 17-13 victory over Pittsburgh.

We interrupt this column for the usual disclaimer: The results in the preseason don't matter, it's a delicate experiment, a balancing act, a staggering work of heartbreaking genius, blah blah blah. Or as tight end Fred Davis put it: "It's preseason; it might not mean anything but it does mean something."

The Redskins didn't just lose their Aug. 13 opener; they were shut out and pushed around and generally made to look inept by the Baltimore Ravens. There is no such thing as a must-win preseason game -- but there is such a thing as a must-look-demonstrably-better especially-on-offense preseason game. And this was it.

So what happened? The first team had a nice first-quarter drive. Santana Moss and Clinton Portis made their preseason debuts. The unit greatly improved its third-down efficiency and converted both fourth-down tries. But you can't escape the fact that the first team has yet to score a touchdown, and starting quarterback Jason Campbell was 1 of 7.

Enter the collector jerseys.

Let's start with rookie Chase Daniel. In his first professional playing time, he completed 6 of 8 passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, one to rookie Marko Mitchell, the other to Davis -- who marveled, "It's like he knew what he was doing" -- and compiled a passer rating of 134.4.

Davis, too, knew what he was doing -- "I kind of redeemed myself a little bit from having those two fumbles," he said, referring to his pair of muffs against the Ravens. "I was just going to get out there and make some plays and do something."

Davis was able to check off his entire to-do list, including the big play. With 13 minutes 24 seconds remaining in the game, the Redskins were forced to punt on fourth and 22 at the Washington 49. Davis hit Pittsburgh's Joe Burnett hard enough to force a fumble, which was recovered by, of course, a rookie, Darrel Young. The next play was Daniel's 18-yard strike to Davis to put the Redskins up, 17-13.

"Luckily I was open and he hit me. He [Daniel] did pretty well," Davis said, adding, "He had two touchdowns, now that I think about it. I was just now thinking about the game."

(Note to self: Talk to Davis after every game.)

Dominique Dorsey spent the past four seasons in the Canadian Football League, so he knows he has to make the most of his time in the lineup. He averaged 12 yards on two punt returns and had 11 carries for 39 yards. Lockermate Marcus Mason of Potomac, in his third season with the Redskins, caught two passes and rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries. Both benefited from the improved play of the offensive line.

"Me and Marcus are the core, we did a great job, but it was all because of the offensive line," Dorsey said. "With the weather conditions we knew we were going to have to run a little bit more than passing. [The line] did a great job of grinding it out. That's what I like to see as a running back, just keep digging out the tough yards and keep going north to south."

On defense, rookie cornerback Kevin Barnes, the Maryland alum who struggled against the Ravens, broke up a pass as the Steelers were driving in the third quarter. On the Steelers' final drive, Chris Wilson, who is playing behind Brian Orakpo, got to quarterback Mike Reilly just before the two-minute warning. Second-year safety Michael Grant also had a rough time against the Ravens, but on third and six at the Redskins 35 and 1:17 remaining, he batted down a pass by Reilly. On the next play, rookie Jeremy Jarmon pressured Reilly into an incomplete pass, narrowly missing a sack and sealing the Redskins' victory.

Jarmon was among the players Coach Jim Zorn singled out during his Sunday morning news conference at Redskins Park. After the loss to the Ravens, Zorn was not pleased with the effort of his younger players, chiding, "This is their season." Even though the staff was still grading film when he met with the media, he was much happier.

"I thought that Marko Mitchell did a great job catching the ball, being aware, picking his game up on the field," he said. "I thought Kevin Barnes tightened his coverage. He had a real nice play. Brian Orakpo's kind of all over the place, doing a great job. . . . I really like what Chase Daniel did with his time in there. He proved that he could scrap and complete passes, he was accurate, he had a great scamble for a first down. Jeremy Jarmon played well. He was right around it. He showed his acceleration, had a couple hits on the QB. Even our younger players, the guys who've been here before, really starting to rise up a little. Chris Wilson did a nice job, getting a nice sack. I thought we improved ourselves overall."

Of course, he wouldn't be a coach if he didn't add a caveat.

"It was fun to see the younger guys enjoy the play; my call to them, though, is to continue to work on finishing the play. We had a lot of guys really having fun out there but some of the finishes weren't up to the NFL standard that we're looking for."

No worries, Coach. The young guys seem to be listening.

"They told us today that the game was going to be on the younger guys to win it for us so we went out there with the mind-set to just do everything perfect," Grant said. "For it to be the first home game, too, that was extra motivation. We went out there and just let it loose."

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