Brandon Noble played his first NFL game in nearlya year when the Washington Redskins faced the Carolina Panthers at FedEx Field last night. The 6-foot-2, 304-pound nose tackle missed Washington's preseason opener on Monday, a 20-17 victory over the Denver Broncos, because of a broken right hand suffered in practice last week. The injury (a fractured third metacarpal) was relatively minor, and Noble was able to play wearing a protective cast.

In the first quarter, when Noble -- known for his run-stopping -- received much of his time, the Panthers rushed for 32 yards on nine carries (an average of 3.6). Stephen Davis, the former Redskins running back, collected 28 yards on seven carries (4.0.)

Noble's relatively quick recovery from a serious knee injury has been described as remarkable by the Redskins. Last Aug. 16, in a 20-13 preseason loss to New England, Noble tore his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments after being entangled under three players. Noble didn't fully participate in a practice until June 4.

The Redskins made revamping their defensive line a priority this offseason, signing tackle Cornelius Griffin and defensive end Phillip Daniels. However, besides Noble the Redskins have no clear-cut, starting nose tackle and would have to rely on Joe Salave'a -- who started last week -- rookie Norman Heuer and possibly Jermaine Haley.

Ohalete Lands on Bubble

Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete -- who has been on the third-string during training camp -- struggled again last night and appears likely to be among the first players to get cut. Ohalate's standing on the team has dropped precipitously since last season, when he started 15 games at free safety

Ohalete -- who was beaten for a touchdown last night -- was expected to battle with Matt Bowen at strong safety after the club selected free safety Sean Taylor with the fifth overall pick.

Taylor on the Rise

Rookie safety Sean Taylor appears to be moving up the depth chart after starting the preseason on the third team. Last night, Taylor entered the game early in the second quarter when Washington inserted much of the second-team defense. On his second play, the 2004 first-round draft pick viciously tackled tailback DeShaun Foster and ripped the ball away for a fumble, which was recovered by Carolina.

Ailments and Absences

Tight end Fred Baxter was forced to leave with 1 minute 26 seconds left in the third quarter after he slid to the wet ground and appeared to twist his right knee. Baxter was helped off the field by two trainers and the specific injury wasn't known. He will undergo an MRI exam today. . . .

Other injuries last night: cornerback Rufus Brown (quadriceps contusion), wideout Laveranues Coles (bruised right shin), linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring).

Declared out of action before the game: linebacker Mike Barrow (left-knee tendinitis and strained quadriceps), cornerback Rashad Bauman (hamstring), running back Ladell Betts (hamstring), defensive end Phillip Daniels (abdominal strain), cornerback Walt Harris (knee), center Ben Nowland (sprained knee), wide receiver Cliff Russell (hamstring) and tackle Brandon Winey (ankle sprain). Punter Tom Tupa (sprained back) also didn't play, and was replaced by Kevin Stemke, a left-footer. . . .

Right guard Randy Thomas started his first game after missing the preseason opener with a swollen knee. Rookie offensive lineman Mark Wilson broke his nose in the middle of the third quarter and was forced to leave the game. . . .

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce started in place of Barrow one week after Kevin Mitchell started, and played well.

Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.