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  Clarke: Little Chance of More Acquisitions

Redskins Helmet Redskins beat writer Liz Clarke said in an online discussion Tuesday, Aug. 24, that she sees little chance the Redskins will make a major acquisition before the season starts.

The Redskins open their season against Dallas on Sept. 12 at Redskins Stadium.

Boston, Ma.: Do you think the offensive line will be able to give Brad Johnson enough time to throw the ball effectively this season?

Liz Clarke: Your question strikes at the heart of matters for the Redskins this season. Nothing will have more to say about the Redskins' success than how well the line protects Johnson. For now, Andy Heck holds the edge over Joe Patton at left tackle. Heck is experienced, but not as agile or fleet as many ends he'll go against. It's up to Johnson, in large part, to get rid of the ball fast. You might see a tight end playing to Heck's left also, at times, to help bolster Johnson's protection.

Washington, D.C.: So if the Redskins aren't going after Doleman, do you think that Marco Coleman, Stubblefield, Wilkinson, and newcomer Ndukwe Kalu will be enough to get pressure on the opposing quarterback so the defense can be successful?

Liz Clarke: Marco Coleman has looked terrific in camp. He's strong, fast, extremely confident and also seems to lift the play of teammates around him. I think we'll see a re-energized Stubbblefield this season, too. And Kalu is very quick to the quarterback, at least in drills to date. He'll have to work on his game-smarts to avoid the costly penalties. So in short, I do think the defensive line will bring a lot of pressure, backed by some young, fast linebackers.

Warrenton, N.C.: Despite the positive quotes I read from training camp Michael Westbrook has not been very impressive as a receiver in the games,so far. Is he destined to be a journeyman with a "great potential" tag for the rest of his career?

Liz Clarke: You're right: Westbrook has not looked very impressive so far. But i think that's largely because he (and Albert Connell, for that matter), haven't been that involved in the game plan. The bulk of Johnson's passes have gone to the tight end, Stephen Alexander, or to the array of solid backs – chiefly Brian Mitchell and Larry Centers. As they incorporate more downfield plays, Westbrook does has a lot to prove, though. Past experience says he won't live up t his potential; he insists he will. Maybe the influence of Irving Fryar--who's very mature and steady--will help.

Arlington, Va.: What was the "feel" of training camp? Does the entire organization seem more motivated and afraid of losing? What do you think of Danny Snyder's changes thus far?

Liz Clarke: To borrow a phrase from Norv Turner, camp did have a heightened "sense of urgency" this year, which I think has a lot to do with coaches and players sensing that their jobs may be on the line. But credit should also go to Larry Centers on offense and Marco Coleman on defense. The intensity that these guys brought to practice was several levels above their peers, and it really did seem to rub off. Snyder's early moves have been marked by enthusiasm and a zeal for winning. He'll be judged ultimately on weighty moves to come: How the 3 first-round draft picks are used and any major personnel changes to come.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Everyone is talking about the possible weakness of the offensive line this year. But I'm more worried about the backfield. Is Skip Hicks ready to make a sophomore breakthrough?

Liz Clarke: Good question. Yes, Skip Hicks' uneven results so far have been one of the surprises of camp. I think it boils down to a difference in styles: Stephen Davis, who's challenging for the starting tailback job, runs head-on between the tackles and gives the Redskins some of what Terry Allen did, grinding one-yard gains into three yards. Hicks is more of a finesse player, favoring outside running lanes. He's got a bigger up-side, but often comes up short in his gamble for more. I don't think he'll change that style. Coaches will simply try to exploit the best of both.

Chantilly, Va.: Do you think that Joe Patton's demotion to the 3rd team during last Friday's game was to send a message to not only him but the team as a whole, or is he really on the bubble of being cut as the rumors would have it?

Liz Clarke: Turner insists that Patton's demotion was not intended to send a signal of any sort; that it was on the merits (punishment for a blocking error that led to a clean sack that could have really hurt Johnson). I can't help but feel, though, that it is laden with "messages." The organization, under Snyder, is trying hard to re-invent its culture, if you will – to create an atmosphere where only winning, success and hard work are acceptable. So I guess signals are appropriate, but I'd hope the starting decision is ultimately based on who is the better player.

Fairfax, Va.: What is impressing you most about the Redskins, this year? Could they actually be better than the Cowboys?

Liz Clarke: It's early still, but some things that have struck me so far: QB Johnson's accuracy, poise and leadership; FB Centers' intensity; the potency of the defensive line; LB Shawn Barber's play-making instincts; the confidence that QB Rodney Peete exudes and seems to bring out in others. And yes – I do think it's possible the Redskins could be better than the Cowboys this season. Remember, the NFC East is not a particularly strong division these days, so even a middle of the road team should shine there.

Denver, Co.: I love how the new owner is shaking things up at Redskins Park, but do you think it is fair to give Coach Turner an ultimatum – get in the playoffs or else you're fired? I know Turner has had several years to prove himself, but it is hard to change a heck of a lot in one year. I just don't want Turner to be the next great coach for someone else, and Snyder to turn out to be George Steinbrenner.

Liz Clarke: Yes, there is a coldness to that ultimatum at first blush. But I do think it is reasonable, given the number of years Turner has been Washington's head coach and the opportunities he has had to reshape the team's personnel the way he wants. I think most people agree Turner is among the best at scripting an offensive game plans. But the new owner feels it's time he be held accountable for scripting success across the board.

Alexandria, Va.: It looks like Marco Coleman could turn out to be a very good off-season acquisition. Any idea why San Diego released him?

Liz Clarke: Quite honestly, I don't know why they released him. But if he continues playing the way he has been playing, I feel sure the Chargers will regret it. It seems that with Coleman, the Redskins got something more than simply one strong defensive end. He brings the sort of intangibles that lift the players around him. And if the Redskins can finally get the punch they expect from their talented, well compensated defensive line, Coleman will be the steal of the offseason.

Lorton, Va.: I'm wondering what type of vibe you get from the Reskins new owner. Is Daniel Snyder slowly but surely turning into a Peter Angelos or George Steinbrenner, or is he really smart enough to keep his nose out of strictly football-related decisions?

Liz Clarke: I understand where you're heading with the question, but it is way too early to tell. The first impression you get from Snyder, in the context of being the Redskins' new owner, is that he is extremely enthusiastic and committed to building a winner. The answer to your question will turn on how constructively that enthusiasm is channeled. And I think in large part, that will depend on the quality of advice Snyder gets from knowledgeable football people and the extent to which he listens to it. We might know in another year.

South Riding, Va.: With the recent injuries to tight ends Stephen Alexander and Pesak, will Sellers be the man to fill that void during this weeks game at Pittsburgh?
We know that Alexander will start when he's healthy, but how about Pesak's chances with the team? From what I've seen, he's looked pretty good as a receiving tight end.

Liz Clarke: For Saturday's Pittsburgh game, Turner will likely use a combination of Mike Sellers and rookie Robert Tardio at tight end. Sellers, as you know, had been switched to fullback. Pesak's opposite conversion (from FB to TE) had gone more smoothly than coaches anticipated. He seems to catch the ball a bit better than Sellers, though he had a drop against New England. They'd like to see him block better, too. But I expect for both Sellers and Pesak, making the roster will depend partly on what they bring to special teams.

Venice, Fla.: CNN-SI reports that, according to some Redskin players, Brad Johnson is far from recovered from the knee injury he suffered last year. They,the players,expect to see more of Rodney Peete than most people think. If this is true, why did we pay so much for damaged goods ? Your thoughts?

Liz Clarke: Johnson has been given a day or two of rest after roughly every 10 days of practice since camp started. He says the breaks keep him fresh. He also says the knee, while not 100%, is not a factor in his game. And he did scramble well against Buffalo. The Redskins gave up a good bit for him (first, second and third-round draft picks over 2 years) in the trade with Minnesota because they had little choice. They intended to lose Gus Frerotte and Jeff Hostetler, but really did not anticipate Trent Green bolting for St. Louis for basically even money.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think the Redskins will make any more acquisitions before the season starts?

Liz Clarke: There are some areas where they'd like to add depth, maybe by picking up a player or two as other NFL teams trim their rosters (Aug. 31, they must cut to 65). But I think the chances of a major acquisition before the season starts are getting pretty remote. There are very few quality players out there who aren't committed. I think also the Redskins have decided they want to hang onto their three first-round picks for next April. If Doleman doesn't pan out, that may be it for the Redskins aquisition-wise and they'll get ready to play with what they've got.

Fairfax, Va.: Won't it be Tony Kornheiser's fault if Michael Westbrook doesn't meet expectations this season? I don't understand the logic – other than financially, as to why they hold onto to this guy who has been disappointing, at best.

Liz Clarke: You raise a question many have wondered about. But regarding Tony, no – I think it will solely be Michael's fault if he fails to live up to expectations. He should count himself fortunate to be commented upon by a guy as funny as Tony, I think. But back to Westbrook, the Redskins' insistence on sticking with him these last years probably has to do with his obvious gifts. He is blessed in a way wide receivers dream about: Tall, strong and incredibly fast. I think all coaches would love to build a game plan around a player with such gifts. But he hasn't put it together. Coaches who believe in him may be like a person who's lost yet keeps driving, sure than if they go far enough, they'll find their way and be vindicated. If so – if Michael pans out – coaches will look awfully smart.

Woodstock, Va.: Considering the emergence of Champ Bailey, is their any chance that Darryl Pounds will ever get back in the starting lineup?

Liz Clarke: Boy, I would think that would be tough for Darryl. Not only because of Bailey, but also because Darrell Green, at 39, is just amazingly fit, fast and smart. I can't believe how good he has looked so far. But cornerback is such a difficult position, I think it's safe to say Champ will struggle at times this season and perhaps beyond that. That may open a window for Pounds to show what he can do.

Columbia, Md.: What's the story with Larry Bowie. It seeems like he has been lost in the shuffle with Larry Centers, Brian Mitchell, and Stephen Davis at fullback. I always thought that he and Mitchell were the best blocking backs.

Liz Clarke: Larry Bowie has been overshadowed somewhat by the arrival of Larrt Centers, who seems to do it all: catch, run, block etc. In the early part of camp, Bowie didn't seem to be running that well – due, I imagine, to the broken leg he suffered last season. But he has come on since then. I think Turner values his blocking ability and his resilience. But for now, Mitchell and Centers are the show.

Newark, Del.: Bob Levey seems to feel that the Redskins will go about 6-10 again. Do you have any prediction regarding how the season win-loss record will go?

Liz Clarke: Boy, I didn't distinguish myself at all last year with my prediction of 10-6, so I am loathe to embarrass myself again. But it's hard to look at this team, the division and the schedule and NOT feel the Redskins will do better than last year's 6-10. the defense looks markedly better. The offense, if Johnson stays healthy, should be better (see L. Centers, I. Fryar in particular). And the schedule is considerably weaker than a year ago, when the toughest games came early, creating a formidable physical and psychological hurdle. We want to thank Liz Clarke for being with us today. Join us on Sports Online at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday when our guest will be Ron Vanderlinden, Maryland's football coach.

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