Coach Norv Turner said yesterday that tackle Andy Heck and place kicker Brett Conway have secured spots in the Washington Redskins' starting lineup for the regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys in 13 days.
Heck's victory in the competition at left tackle virtually ensures the release of veteran offensive lineman Joe Patton, a former starter. Club officials basically have decided to cut Patton but might delay the maneuver until after Friday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, team sources said. Redskins officials are scheduled to meet this morning, and Turner said the team will make some roster cuts today.
"I truly feel Andy Heck gives us more of a chance to be consistent at that position," Turner said.
Stephen Davis appears to have clinched the starting tailback job, but Turner declined to make that official. He did indicate that Davis will remain ahead of Skip Hicks this week and start against Tampa Bay. Starting defensive end Kenard Lang, who sprained his left ankle in Saturday night's 27-14 triumph at Pittsburgh, might be sidelined for Friday's game, trainer Bubba Tyer said.
The mood was upbeat at Redskin Park yesterday. Saturday's win improved the Redskins' preseason record to 3-0, and the team could savor some solid play by its starters. The first-team defense, in particular, continues to shine, having surrendered only three points in the first halves of the three preseason games.
"This has been our best training camp and our best preseason," Turner said. "I'd like to finish it off and have some momentum. When you're playing defense the way our first group is, it gives you confidence. . . . We know the best thing for our football team right now, with our youth and number of new individuals, is to have success."
The Redskins didn't want to sleepwalk their way through the preseason as they attempt to end their six-season playoff drought. And they haven't.
"If you're a team that has won your division or won the Super Bowl, you can step back," Turner said. "With our football team, it's important for us to have a good preseason. We needed to play together. We needed to have success without compromising your preparation for the [regular] season. We haven't compromised that, and I think we've gotten done what we needed to get done."
Turner indicated that he and his assistants will intensify their preparations for the Cowboys this week, but won't include the players in that process until Saturday. The players already have begun practicing for particular wrinkles against the Cowboys without being told that was what they were doing, Turner said.
The starting lineup that will take the field against the Cowboys has been decided, barring injuries.
Finding ways to protect new quarterback Brad Johnson is among the Redskins' top concerns. The Steelers blitzed often Saturday. But the Redskins' blockers did a good job and Johnson made the Pittsburgh defense pay when it took risks, most significantly with a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Westbrook.
"We did some good things with the blitzes," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said yesterday. "We could have done better. We busted two of them. We can get better."
Patton played little Saturday as Kipp Vickers got the work as Heck's backup for a second straight game. Redskins officials have soured on Patton not only because he missed a block in the first preseason game that resulted in a sack but also, they say, because they don't like his attitude.
NFL teams must trim their rosters to 65 players by Tuesday, and sources said yesterday the Redskins' only fear about cutting Patton today is that Heck will get hurt. Team officials will decide this morning whether to make the move now or delay it until after the preseason finale, sources said. Some club officials plan to push for keeping Patton into the regular season, sources said.
Patton was to count $1.5 million against the salary cap this season, and the Redskins could use some of that money to sign defensive end Chris Doleman to serve as a pass-rush specialist. But Doleman has frustrated the Redskins with his asking price of $3 million to $4 million for a one-year contract to come out of retirement, and club officials say they have no immediate plans to make a negotiating push unless Doleman lowers his demands. The Redskins harassed Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart Saturday, and Turner said he's pleased with the pass-rush work he's getting from his defensive linemen.
"It's going to be a strength for us," Turner said.
Conway had field goals of 46 and 33 yards Saturday and has beaten out Cary Blanchard and rookie Jeff Hall for the kicking job. "Brett has kicked awfully well," Turner said.
The Redskins hope starting tight end Stephen Alexander, who missed Saturday's game because of a sprained knee ligament, resumes practicing this week, although Tyer said yesterday Alexander wasn't ready. Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson suffered a dislocated left ring finger Saturday, but trainers popped the finger back into place and X-rays revealed no breaks.
Lang's ankle injury is what had team officials most concerned yesterday. Reserve linebacker Twan Russell was given fluids intravenously late Saturday after becoming dehydrated during the game, but he accompanied the team home from Pittsburgh and Tyer said he was fine.