Casey Weldon served notice that he's a worthy challenger for the Washington Redskins' No. 2 quarterback job today, directing three consecutive scoring drives in a 24-12 scrimmage victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Weldon completed 14 of 15 passes for 148 yards, including touchdown passes of 15, 4 and 30 yards, and drew praise from Coach Norv Turner, who said the battle between Weldon and veteran Rodney Peete would continue through the preseason.
Afterward, new Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder met with Turner and player personnel director Vinny Cerrato about potential moves to upgrade the team before the Sept. 12 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Snyder said the three are examining "about a half-dozen areas" where the Redskins need help, adding that he was bullish about making a move in the next four weeks.
"Absolutely," Snyder said. "We expect it."
Among the Redskins' more critical needs is at left tackle, but team officials say there are simply no players available. The team also is believed to be looking for a wide receiver, pass-rush specialist and possibly a place kicker.
"We're looking to improve the team," Snyder said. "We're all on the same page. That's important. This team is unified, and now all we want to do is get the players that we can to improve the organization overall and make this team a winning team."
The Redskins would be willing to trade one of their three first-round picks next year for a quality starter, but the ranks of available players are thinning as the season nears. Still, Redskins officials say they believe they can improve their depth with smart signings as other teams make cuts.
The scrimmage drew a sellout crowd of 7,556, despite the lack of stars and starters in the lineup. The purpose of the scrimmage was to help sort out the final dozen or so spots on the Redskins' 53-man roster. Turner had told his younger players to treat it as a preseason game, and he liked what he saw.
Wide receiver Kevin Alexander, a free agent from Utah State, caught five passes for 70 yards, including the 30-yard touchdown catch. Tight end Kevin Pesak, recently converted from fullback, had four receptions for 52 yards. Running back Leroy Collins rushed five times for 29 yards. On defense, safety Matt Stevens showed grit, with three tackles, one assist and one pass defended.
Like Turner, Snyder praised his players' enthusiasm, which he partly attributed to the aggressive tone he has set as an owner.
"There is definitely more intensity. There's a desire," Snyder said. "The players see me here all the time. They understand how much I want to win. They understand that I'm a Washingtonian. I'm a fan forever, and I think they feel it inside--that we're the underdogs this year and have an opportunity."
Before the scrimmage, fans got a glimpse of the starters in seven-on-seven drills. Quarterback Brad Johnson's throws were on target. His only incompletions were drops by tight end Stephen Alexander and wide receiver Michael Westbrook. Safety Sam Shade intercepted one pass and batted away another.
In a controlled scrimmage, each team gets 10 plays to move downfield, starting from its 35. If a team scores in fewer than 10 plays, as the Redskins did on one possession, it begins a second drive from the 35. No blitzing is allowed.
The Redskins had little trouble moving the ball, scoring on each series. But penalties were a problem for the offensive line, with several plays negated by holding calls--including what would have been a 58-yard touchdown reception by Junior Lord.
Turner attributed the missteps to a more rigid interpretation of offensive holding this year.
"We have some young players, I think, who didn't believe when the referees explained the rule," Turner said. "You've got to get your hands inside. It's just an adjustment you have to make, but I think every team in the league is going to have to make [that adjustment] through preseason."
Weldon, 30, didn't play as the Redskins' third quarterback last season, but Turner was impressed with his work in practice. Based on that, Weldon has refused to hand Peete, who has a 37-35 record as an NFL starter, the No. 2 job without a fight.
"I don't even understand why there's a question that it's not a battle" for the No. 2 job, Weldon said. "Trent Green [last year's starter] didn't exactly have Rodney's experience last year, either, and look where he's at now. I don't buy into that experience thing. I think it's an open battle, and it should be."
On the first series, Weldon rolled right and found receiver James Thrash in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown strike. He capped the next possession with a four-yard touchdown pass to running back Chad Dukes. Weldon's third touchdown was a 30-yard pitch-and-go to Alexander.
"I've had to work really hard to get into position to show I'm able to make a contribution to the team," Alexander said. "You only get so many opportunities, and you don't want to let them go by."
Fourth-string quarterback John Paci directed the final series, completing all three of his throws for 41 yards.