Expectations have been no greater impediment than pulling guards and backpedaling tackles so far this preseason for the Washington Redskins' defensive line. In last night's 20-19 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills at Redskins Stadium, the first-team defensive front showed why the Redskins are counting on them to be the team's strongest unit, and the reserves showed the ability to give the linemen the breaks they will need.
The starting front four -- ends Kenard Lang and Marco Coleman and tackles Dan Wilkinson and Dana Stubblefield -- made life difficult for the Bills throughout the first half. Aside from Rob Johnson's 35-yard pass to Eric Moulds early in the second quarter, the Bills netted 50 yards and three first downs in their first six possessions.
"I thought we did pretty good," said Wilkinson, who sat out last week against New England with a sprained ankle. "Our main focus is to play solid run defense and attack the offense. I think we did a great job of it. They couldn't run the ball on us."
The Bills didn't have much better luck throwing, either. The line flushed Johnson out to give linebacker Shawn Barber the Redskins' first sack of the game midway through the second quarter.
When Doug Flutie came into the game late in the half, he probably kept the Redskins from accumulating even more sacks with his mobility -- though even he was dragged down, by Coleman, for a nine-yard loss late in the second quarter.
The expectations are well-warranted for the starting unit. The Redskins are the only team in the league with four former first-round picks starting on the defensive line. But the reserves could make the difference this season. End Anthony Cook and tackle Marc Boutte are the Redskins' top reserve linemen, and Coach Norv Turner sounds prepared to use them quite a bit.
"We have six real good defensive linemen," he said, "and one of our goals this season is for Dan Wilkinson not to lead the league in snaps taken by a defensive lineman" as he did last season.
If Boutte keeps his coach's confidence by playing well, Wilkinson should get some rest. Wilkinson said he can help himself out with good play, as well.
"If we get out there and shut the run down, we're not going to be on the field that long this year," he said. "It's a 16-game regular season, and guys have to be fresh in December as well as in September."
Cook played right end last night, but Turner said he'd like to get the free-agent acquisition working at left end, too. Last night, Ndukwe Kalu subbed in there, with mixed results.
Kalu put pressure on the quarterback at times -- it's his specialty -- but he also committed his second ill-advised penalty in as many games. In the third quarter, he flew around the end and almost sacked Flutie, but the veteran scrambled upfield. Kalu followed, and landed on Flutie after he went down for an unnecessary roughness penalty.
On the penalty, "I missed the sack and I was so mad at myself that I wanted to get [Flutie] wherever he was," Kalu said. ". . . Norv's been telling me I'm not being smart; I'm just out there running around like a madman."
Kalu "is an inexperienced player who has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and can rush the passer," Turner said. "We have to get him to the point where he's not making penalties like that every week."
For his part, Kalu said he is just hoping to make an impact on obvious passing downs. "I'm not expecting to take any of those guy's starting jobs," he said.