CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 25 -- George Rogers' sore big toe on his left foot has become such a concern that Coach Joe Gibbs is wondering aloud if his starting running back will be ready to play by the Washington Redskins' season opener Sept. 13.

Gibbs said today that if Rogers isn't able to play in the team's third preseason game Saturday night at Tampa Bay, his status for the Washington-Philadelphia game is "up in the air."

"If he doesn't play much in this game, it's going to mean he has a good chance maybe of not being ready for the opener," Gibbs said. "It's coming down now to he's got to get a couple games under his belt. If he can't do that and really feel comfortable doing it, and he can't stay in there this week or can't go, then it would be down to us having one week to get him ready, and I think that would be much harder to do. We'll just have to see. We'll play it by ear."

The starting running back spot is not the only place the Redskins are unsettled with 19 days to go until the regular season begins. The team today signed tight end Cliff Benson, who was waived by San Francisco, to add depth to its H-back spot due to the continued absence of Terry Orr because of a sore left shoulder. And two spots in the secondary -- the cornerback slot opposite Darrell Green and the free safety position -- are considered either "open" or "closely contested" by Gibbs and assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon.

Although Barry Wilburn will start Saturday in a rotation plan at the open cornerback position. Tim Morrison, as things stand now, is likely to win the job.

"Timmy played well {against Green Bay}," Petitbon said. "But I'd say that position is up for grabs." Veteran Vernon Dean also is competing for that job.

At free safety, veteran Curtis Jordan would start if the season began today, Petitbon said, but he called the competition between Jordan and Todd Bowles "a battle."

"Todd's looked very good," Petitbon said. Added Gibbs, "I think that's a closely contested spot also."

Wilburn will play left cornerback against the Buccaneers and Green will move to right cornerback because Wilburn is used to the left side and Green can and does play either side, Petitbon said.

"As far as I'm concerned, I just have to go out and take it," Wilburn said of the starting job. "I think it's mine, for me to take. If I don't do it, then somebody else will be in it."

Morrison, in his second year out of North Carolina, said he "wouldn't say" he is the favorite to win the job.

"They're just rotating us right now," he said. "They gave me a chance {he started against the Packers} and I went out there and did what I had to do. I didn't really get that much action, plus the Green Bay quarterbacks didn't look so good, but I think I did okay."

Rogers said he wanted to play against Green Bay, but the artificial turf at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison was too hard and the coaches didn't want to risk further injury. He said he wants to play and thinks he will play this Saturday, especially because Tampa Stadium has natural grass, which will be easier on his toe.

But Rogers said the toe, sprained Aug. 4 in the veterans' second day of practice, is going to bother him all season.

"It's going to hurt all year," Rogers said today after practice, which he described as his "best" since the injury. "It's not well yet, but it's well enough to play . . . I dislocated it. It's kind of like a jammed finger. As long as you work on it, it won't go away. As long as I run on it, it won't go away."

Rogers said the toe was about "80 to 85 percent" recovered. Head trainer Bubba Tyer agreed he is "not 100 percent," but said Rogers is healthy enough to see "limited" work at Tampa Bay. The problem, both said, is not in his straight-ahead running. It's in his ability to cut.

"That's your balance," Rogers said. "Ever see anybody without a toe? They can't keep their balance. They walk kind of funny."

"It's just a slow process," Tyer said. "He can run. He runs straightaway great, but cutting and turning, especially to his right, he puts pressure on his toe and that bothers him."

After practice Monday, Gibbs said he considered resting Rogers by taking him out of practice until he healed. Today, Gibbs said he was more encouraged by Rogers' play.

"I think he looked a little better today. I think we'll just go toward game time and see how he feels," Gibbs said. "I was not real encouraged yesterday. If he missed this game, I think it would be getting a little shaky now as far as him being able to start. I'm going to be hesitant starting somebody at running back that hasn't been knocked around, had a chance to carry the ball.

"I'm not trying to push George. That's the last thing in the world I want . . . You get a toe like that, I've seen it swelled up and tender, I know how hard that is for a guy to go on it. That's the reason why I'm much more skeptical about that, much more leery about projecting him to being able to do things. I've seen those things just stay sore for a long time. It's very hard to get over those."

Rogers said he has had two shots of cortisone in his toe. The pain and swelling, which has subsided somewhat now, he said, was so bad at the team's first preseason game against Pittsburgh that he had to take off his cleats and put on tennis shoes.

He said the toe was sore after practice, but "it's nothing that's killing me now. But, two weeks ago, I'm telling you . . . "

Ironically, it appears the coaches believe Rogers' injury now is worse than Kelvin Bryant's. Bryant strained his right quadriceps Aug. 10 and played sparingly in the Pittsburgh game before missing the Green Bay game. He, too, is back at practice.

"Kelvin is much improved," Tyer said. "The tenderness is just about gone completely. He's doing well. We're just being cautious about how he works."

If Rogers can't play Saturday, Keith Griffin will start and share duty with rookie Timmy Smith, Gibbs said. Rogers, meanwhile, sounds confused about his situation. He said repeatedly he wants to play, but constantly sounded a warning that playing could risk an injury that would cause him to miss playing time in the regular season.

"I could play Saturday," Rogers said. "Without a doubt. I want to play. It's a different kind of shape, game shape and practice shape . . . But if I play and get hurt again, the same way, that would be too bad for George."