The dazzling debut of rookie cornerback Champ Bailey in Friday night's 20-14 victory over New England in the preseason opener has earned him a place in the Washington Redskins' starting lineup. Coach Norv Turner said yesterday that Bailey likely will remain a starter this week, even with veteran cornerback Darrell Green returning from a finger injury.
"We need to visit with some people about that," Turner said from the team's Frostburg, Md., training camp. "But, yeah, there's probably a good chance that will happen."
Bailey, the Redskins' first-round pick in April's college draft, started at cornerback opposite veteran Darryl Pounds Friday because Green was sidelined after dislocating the middle finger of his left hand in practice last week. Bailey made an immediate impact, intercepting a pass from Drew Bledsoe in the first quarter and going 46 yards for a touchdown.
"Now our players know he can do it for us," Redskins running back and kick returner Brian Mitchell said. "He put that to rest early on."
The Redskins already have their second-round draft choice, tackle Jon Jansen, entrenched as a starter. They had been taking a cautious approach with Bailey as he learns one of the sport's most demanding positions, and Pounds had gotten most of the work with the starters in practice.
But the Redskins always hoped that Bailey would win the position by early in the regular season. If all continues to go smoothly for him on defense, they probably will work him into the mix soon as a kick returner and wide receiver.
Turner declined to say whether Stephen Davis will remain the starter at tailback for the Redskins' home preseason opener on Friday against the Buffalo Bills. Davis ran well against the Patriots, with 31 yards on five carries. Skip Hicks produced 71 yards on 12 carries after taking over midway through the second quarter.
"I was pleased with both of them," Turner said.
When training camp began, most Redskins officials seemed to believe that Hicks would win the job. Turner perhaps was attempting to give Hicks a wake-up call by starting Davis, but Hicks said he wasn't upset by his second-string status.
"I wasn't surprised," Hicks said. "We've been alternating since minicamp. I don't know how it's going to go from here. I'm just happy I got a lot of carries and got into the flow of the game, and got some of the rust knocked off."
After watching the game films late yesterday, Turner cited the play of some of the team's newcomers--including Bailey, Jansen, quarterback Brad Johnson, safety Sam Shade and defensive end Marco Coleman--and pronounced himself satisfied with Friday's results.
"I liked the attitude of our guys," Turner said. "They played aggressive. They played hard. They had good energy. . . . The people we added showed us right away they're going to help us be better. It's a good start."
The Redskins saw the steadying influence that Johnson has on their offense. He was able to move the Redskins with short passes, including one for a touchdown to fullback Larry Centers. Turner successfully worked both of his pass-catching running backs, Centers and Mitchell, into the offense. Place kicker Brett Conway made two field goals, and the defense had a shutout going with six minutes remaining.
There were downsides, however, even before the sloppiness of the third-teamers gave the Patriots a chance to win. The Redskins still do not have a proven left tackle to anchor their offensive line; it showed on their fourth play from scrimmage when Joe Patton missed a blocking assignment and Johnson took a hard sack. Johnson had only one completion to a wide receiver in 1 1/2 quarters, and Michael Westbrook had no catches in the game.
If everything were perfect, after all, the Redskins wouldn't be trying to lure defensive end Chris Doleman and wide receiver Irving Fryar out of retirement.
The most ominous note for the Redskins was that Johnson was under pressure at times. Neither Patton nor veteran free agent signee Andy Heck has taken hold of the left tackle job, and Turner was upset with Patton's early mistake Friday.
"Joe had a mental error that disturbed me," Turner said. "Other than that, he did some good things. He was physical. . . . We have a good competition with those two guys."
Wide receiver Albert Connell had one reception with Johnson in the game, and teamed with backup quarterback Rodney Peete for a 67-yard catch and run before leaving with a strained neck. But Westbrook was shut out, and the Redskins still wonder whether they need to add a proven wide receiver. The trade front has been unproductive thus far--the Redskins don't seem to want the Cincinnati Bengals' Carl Pickens and don't want to give the Arizona Cardinals a first-round draft selection for Rob Moore--so team officials contacted Fryar's agent last week, and are waiting to begin negotiations.
Likewise, the Redskins didn't see anything Friday to dissuade them from pursuing Doleman, who had 15 sacks last season for the San Francisco 49ers, to serve as a pass-rush specialist. The Redskins had two sacks, one by tackle Dana Stubblefield and one by backup defensive end Anthony Cook, and left Bledsoe limping on a twisted ankle.
The Redskins are scheduled to resume practicing today at Frostburg State University. Turner said that Connell may be limited for a day or two but should play against the Bills. Green and defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, who has been sidelined by a sprained ankle, are scheduled to resume practicing this week.
Rookie Jeff Hall missed a 23-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter Friday. Turner indicated that Conway and Cary Blanchard likely will split the kicking duties against the Bills.