With two preseason victories in as many games, the Washington Redskins took steps yesterday intended to ensure a successful continuation of the preseason while facing their first significant injury problem of 1999.
Wide receiver Irving Fryar, who was signed last Thursday, practiced with the team yesterday. Veteran Andy Heck, whose effort in Friday's 20-19 victory over Buffalo impressed Coach Norv Turner, was named the starter at left tackle for a second week. And Turner prepared to do without Stephen Alexander for what could be the rest of preseason after the starting tight end sprained a knee ligament in the game's first quarter.
Fryar, 36, the seventh-leading receiver in NFL history, stayed after practice for about a half-hour to review routes and formations with passing game coordinator Terry Robiskie and fourth-string quarterback John Paci. While Fryar acknowledged he is not yet in game shape, he said he will be able to help the team in its season opener, Sept. 12 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Meanwhile, Redskins officials are considering releasing left tackle Joe Patton later in the preseason, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Such a move would make it easier to sign an impact player such as defensive end Chris Doleman. Coach Norv Turner insisted no decision has been made on any cuts. NFL teams must trim their rosters to 65 on Aug. 31. The Redskins' third preseason game is Saturday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
"People will speculate about who we're going to keep and who we're going to cut," Turner said, "but we're going to work really hard as a coaching staff to come up with the best 53 people."
Patton, a third-round pick in 1994, is scheduled to count for $1.5 million against the team's salary cap this season.
Of the three linemen who were vying to start at left tackle when training camp opened, Patton seemed to perform the most consistently. But he was demoted to third string after missing an assignment on the Redskins' fourth offensive play against New England in the preseason opener. Patton's mistake left a clear lane to quarterback Brad Johnson, who was sacked by defensive end Greg Spires.
Yesterday, Turner complimented Heck's performance at left tackle in Friday night's victory over the Bills at Redskins Stadium.
Heck "did a lot of good things; a lot of real good things," Turner said. "He had a couple breakdowns late that didn't cause a problem, but I thought he did a nice job."
Patton didn't enter Friday night's game until the fourth quarter, joining the third-team offense. Kipp Vickers played with the second team.
Alexander is expected to miss 10 days to two weeks. In addition, tight end Kevin Pesak could be sidelined even longer by the high ankle sprain he suffered in that game.
With both ailing, Turner said he will move fullback Mike Sellers to tight end for Saturday's game and play several sets involving three wide receivers.
Stephen Davis likely will start at tailback ahead of Skip Hicks on Saturday night, though Turner said he remains undecided about a starter for the season.
Turner singled out the physical play of his starting defense, which has allowed just three points over two first halves of play.
He said the offensive line played far better than it was given credit for. Of the two sacks surrendered in Friday's game, one was on a play when the patterns run by the two wide receivers didn't offer the team a chance to succeed. "We had great protection on the play," Turner said. "Brad spun out for some reason. If he had slid to the side, he might have found an alternate receiver."
And rookie cornerback Champ Bailey, who made his second interception in as many games, is progressing so rapidly that Turner didn't rule out using Bailey at wide receiver for a play or two as early as the regular season opener. "As we prepare for Dallas, there may be a couple things we want to use him on, but that's something we won't even discuss for a couple weeks," Turner said.
The addition of Fryar, a 15-year NFL veteran, is expected to add stability and reliability to the Redskins' passing game. Fryar will make his debut Saturday against Pittsburgh.
"With that kind of experience he ought to be ready to play tomorrow," Robiskie said. "He's been playing 15 years. He knows every route."
For Fryar, a licensed preacher, the chance to join the Redskins came as redemption. Told he could either retire or get cut by the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 1998 season, Fryar chose retirement.
"Last year, it just seemed to fall apart for all of us," Fryar said. "I'm sure if you were to go back and ask anybody who was on that team last year, they'd probably say it was one of the worst--if not the worst--year of their professional career."
While he signed a three-year deal, Fryar has committed only to one year. The Redskins have yet to assign him a number. He wore a No. 2 jersey yesterday and said he did not intend to ask Alexander, who wears No. 80, to surrender his former number.
In yesterday's 75-minute walk-through, Fryar ran one pattern and caught a pass thrown by backup quarterback Rodney Peete.
"My legs are tired and burning, but I'm getting myself into football shape," Fryar said. "I felt good out there on the field today. I was a little concerned about how I would feel. But if nothing else, to get back on the field and start cutting and get moving and get the helmet back on and shoulder pad back felt good."
Albert Connell, who is penciled in to start at wide receiver alongside Michael Westbrook, declined to comment when Fryar was signed last week. Yesterday he said he felt he could benefit from Fryar's experience.
"I told Irving, 'I'm hoping I can learn some things from you,' " Connell said. "He's one of the best. He's not here to cause any problems. He's here to help where he can and do whatever it takes to help the team. We need that experience because we've got a young group."