CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 5 -- Jeff Rutledge awoke this morning to discover his right shoulder felt less sore than the night before. It was still extremely tender and is likely to keep him out of Saturday's preseason opener, but for now the Washington Redskins hope he suffered no serious damage.

He was hurt in a scrimmage Saturday night at Buffalo when Bills rookie linebacker Marvcus Patton drilled him into the turf, then rolled on him. The Redskins say he will be treated daily, and that when the swelling subsides they'll find out for sure if the injury is more than the severe bruise it appears to be.

Meanwhile, the rest of the injury news wasn't good in the wake of that 27-16 victory and today's start of preparations for the preseason opener against Atlanta Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Reggie Branch, a backup running back, special teams star and Redskins favorite, likely will miss the season after suffering a gruesome fracture of his right ankle.

Rookie quarterback Cary Conklin has swelling and soreness in his right knee and may have to have arthroscopic surgery. Trainer Bubba Tyer said Conklin appears to have torn meniscus (the wafer-like cartilage in the middle of the knee).

Tyer said "sometimes these things work themselves out," so Conklin will try to exercise the knee the next few days, and if it doesn't get better he'll undergo an arthroscopic procedure that would end any chance he has of winning the No. 3 quarterback job from Rutledge.

The Redskins will also be without cornerback Brian Davis (quadriceps), wide receivers Art Monk (hamstring) and Ricky Sanders (hamstring) and tight end Ron Middleton (shoulder) this week as they prepare for the Falcons.

Still, while the line to get into the training room is a lengthy one, it appears only Branch has suffered a season-ending injury, this after two hard weeks of practice that included four live scrimmages.

"Other than Reggie, everything is soft-tissue injuries," Tyer said. "That's not too bad. This is about the usual number you have this time of camp. We were within two plays of getting out of them without anything serious."

One of those plays was Reggie Dupard's one-yard touchdown run. Branch was a blocking on the play, and as he plunged into the line, linebacker Matt Jaworsky stepped on his right ankle.

Television replays clearly showed the joint giving and Branch told teammates he could hear the ankle crack.

Branch, 27, now will spend a few nervous days awaiting the surgery that will make a determination on the severity of the injury.

"It's a serious thing, and as tough as Reggie is, he's got a good chance of coming back and playing again," Tyer said.

The Redskins are hoping the same thing about Rutledge. Just when he appeared to be getting comfortable with his new system, having completed 10 straight passes and gone 14 of 16 for 190 yards and four touchdowns his last three scrimmages, he suffered an injury that shouldn't have happened.

The first rule of these scrimmages is that there will be no quarterback hits. The Redskins say they understand Patton, a rookie trying to make the Bills, got eager and saw an open target. But they also were angry about it and as Rutledge said: "Our guys were in there all night on them. They get one shot at us and take it."

The Redskins may have been no less angry than Bills Coach Marv Levy, who could be heard chewing out Patton.

It was a scary moment for Rutledge, a 12-year veteran who came into this camp hoping to hang on another year in the NFL. When the Redskins signed him in March, Coach Joe Gibbs told him he liked having a veteran quarterback around.

But when Conklin was available in the draft, they also weren't going to pass on him and the preseason competition was supposed to be Conklin vs. Rutledge. At least for now, Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries will be taking all the practice snaps.

General Manager Charley Casserly had his Rolodex out tonight and was prepared to summon a free agent quarterback to help with practice. But Gibbs told him to wait and see if one of the two injured quarterbacks is able to come back.

"I guess I'm encouraged," said Rutledge, who was shaking hands with his left hand today. "It feels better than I thought it would. In fact, it feels better than it did last night. I'll tell you, last night, I was scared. I'll play it by ear now and hopefully it'll get this much better every day."

This already was a camp of nerves for him. His family is in Mission Viejo, Calif., delaying their move to Northern Virginia until he definitely makes the team. When he phoned wife Laura after the scrimmage, he said, "she knew something was wrong. She said, 'Did you play badly?' I said, 'No, I did okay, but I got hurt.' "

He phoned today with a more encouraging report and was even trying to figure out how it happened.

"I understand {Patton's} excitement," Rutledge said. "He had a chance to get the quarterback and that's all he can see. I don't think it entered his mind. I normally wear a flak jacket, but haven't put it on for these things.

"I saw only at the last moment that he wasn't going to pull up. What bothers me is that he hit me, then drove me into the turf. That turf is not like grass. It has very little give to it."

The injuries put a damper on what should have a night of positives for the Redskins, who pretty much controlled a Buffalo team decimated by holdouts and injuries.

Running backs Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs and James Wilder all looked sharp, as did fifth-round pick Brian Mitchell, a converted quarterback from Southeastern Louisiana.

Mitchell has had a slow adjustment to the position, but on Saturday he carried five times for 33 yards and showed flashes of being an instinctive, smart runner.

"I think he took a step up," Casserly said. "We knew he was a good athlete and now it's just a matter of learning a new position."

Likewise, coaches again gave defensive tackle Kent Wells (sixth-round pick) high marks. He had two sacks, played solid against the run and Gibbs said, "I haven't seen the defensive films, but he sure has a knack for getting in there and making the big plays."

Mitchell may benefit from Branch's injury and Wells certainly has benefited from the holdouts by Darryl Grant and Markus Koch.

"That's what sometimes happens when a good athlete gets a chance to show what he can do," Gibbs said. "We've been able to take a longer look at a guy like that and he has made us want to see even more."