ANAHEIM, CALIF., SEPT. 4 -- The Washington Redskins' practice season ends here Saturday night, half a mile from Disneyland, almost 3,000 miles from Carlisle, Pa. The Redskins obviously have traveled quite a distance this summer. But how far have they come?
Plugging unexpectedly vacant spots with rookies and new faces, and still reeling from a miserable performance in Tampa, the Redskins will have a much better idea of just how good they are after their game against the Los Angeles Rams at 9 p.m. (EDT) at Anaheim Stadium.
Going into it, they simply aren't sure. Five usual starters are out, and a sixth, injured cornerback Tim Morrison, might be. Four of those five are hurt -- tight end Clint Didier, running back George Rogers, defensive end Dexter Manley and middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz. The fifth, free safety Curtis Jordan, was demoted.
In their places, respectively, meet Glenn Dennison, Timmy Smith, Markus Koch, Rich Milot and Todd Bowles.
The Redskins actually are coming out of preseason with more questions than when they entered, which is a sobering thought for Coach Joe Gibbs, with 15 roster spots to trim by Monday.
"This game is important for us," he said the other day. "The last game of the preseason always is important, to tell where you are. But we'd like to pick up our performance from Tampa Bay, and we still have a lot of injuries."
The Rams are a good team to play when the score doesn't matter because they have looked rather impressive this summer. The Redskins beat them, 19-7, in the NFC wild-card game last December at RFK Stadium, but the Rams are supposed to be better this season.
They have won three games and lost one this preseason, splitting with Denver and beating Seattle and San Diego. They have located a passing attack (finally) to complement running back extraordinaire Eric Dickerson. Quarterback Jim Everett, in his second season from Purdue, has completed 43 of 69 passes for 470 yards. In general, the Rams' passing game is averaging 56 yards per game more than last preseason. The team itself is running for 134 yards per game and passing for 138, surprising statistics considering the Rams used to run on almost every down, regardless of the yardage needed.
But Dickerson still is Dickerson, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in the preseason. "Eric looks as quick and as good as I've seen him," Coach John Robinson said.
The Rams have had their share of problems. Running back Charles White was arrested on drug charges while waving a garbage-can lid in the middle of a field in Brea, Calif., Aug. 21. Against the Broncos last week, he dropped two consecutive wide-open passes, one ending the Rams' final drive in a 24-20 loss.
Also, Dickerson and cornerback LeRoy Irvin have been quoted locally saying they are not happy with their contracts.
Against this backdrop come the Redskins. Gibbs said early in the week that he figures those players who can't play in this game won't "go in the next one." You could hold him to that on some of the more severe injuries, like Didier's pulled left hamstring and Manley's and Olkewicz's knee injuries, although Manley has been running and isn't yet written off for the Philadelphia Eagles Sept. 13.
But some areas of the team are completely healthy, just not producing as they have been expected to. The offensive line is set, left to right, with Joe Jacoby, Raleigh McKenzie, Russ Grimm, R.C. Thielemann and Mark May. But they had trouble keeping the Buccaneers off quarterback Jay Schroeder last week.
Wide receiver Gary Clark has been especially quiet this preseason, catching just two passes for 30 yards. Yes, the Redskins have some major decisions to make at wide receiver, needing to get rid of two, maybe three, players, but this is the game in which the veterans are expected to emerge from summer vacation, Clark among them.
"We just haven't played well," Schroeder said. "We've got to get it together, me especially. I think everybody on offense wants to show we can play like we did last year. We haven't put together a complete offensive package yet. If we can do that, I think we'll be taking the right step heading into the season. Only Saturday night will tell."
It also will tell who stays and who goes Monday as the final roster cut is made. Some of the 15 will be placed on injured reserve, no doubt, which means they will miss a minimum of four weeks. Others will be released outright.
One area with too many bodies is the defensive backfield. Who plays where when will provide clues about the decisions. Veteran cornerback Vernon Dean has become a backup at strong and free safety. Jordan, who lost his starting spot Wednesday, might be in danger of completely losing a job if Dean becomes the utility man.
And what do you do about cornerback Barry Wilburn, injured veteran strong safety Ken Coffey and rookie safeties Steve Gage and Clarence Vaughn if you're the coach?
Another NFL team has expressed interest in Redskins veteran backup quarterback Doug Williams. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the Indianapolis Colts called the Redskins this week, asking what it would take for them to get Williams. The Colts apparently are in the market for a backup, with starter Gary Hogeboom hurt. The Redskins reportedly told the Colts they would want third-year linebacker Duane Bickett if they had to give up Williams. The Colts said they wouldn't trade Bickett. End of discussion.