In his postgame interview late Saturday night after the Washington Redskins' offense sputtered yet again during a 23-20 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers at a fittingly soggy FedEx Field, Coach Joe Gibbs declined to provide a detailed review. Expressing disappointment with the running game and his quarterbacks, Gibbs wanted to analyze the game film before going more in depth.
Arriving at Redskins Park around noon yesterday as injured players trickled in for treatment, Gibbs emerged in the early evening with a more expansive review of Saturday's game and the club's early preseason performance.
The good news? The special teams unit was solid; the undermanned offensive line improved, particularly at protecting the quarterback; and the team once again played hard. The rest of his take on the offense? The Redskins didn't show much football acumen, leading to turnovers, penalties and incorrect alignments.
"I'm definitely concerned. I don't think we're doing smart things," Gibbs said. "I think we're making some glaring errors. You don't throw the ball where we threw it and win football games."
The "Dirtbags" are in flux after right tackle Jon Jansen's season ended because of a ruptured right Achilles' tendon. The Redskins are expected today to sign 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle Marcus Spriggs as a reserve, according to sources familiar with the situation, and release Brandon Winey, the third-string left tackle.
Spriggs, in his eighth NFL season, started a total of 18 games with the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. Spriggs, 30, played in two games last season with the Packers. He performed well in a tryout on Thursday.
It's typical for NFL teams to play it close to the vest during the preseason, especially in the early games, before showing more sophistication toward the end of training camp. (Gibbs's predecessor, Steve Spurrier, was an anomaly in his first NFL season with the Redskins in 2002, unveiling his entire offense as Washington went 4-1 in the preseason while setting an NFL record for scoring. The Redskins went 7-9 in the regular season.) However, Gibbs's Redskins have had trouble executing the basics in a limited playbook.
"Right now we're still learning," wideout Laveranues Coles said yesterday. "We're still trying to pick up everything that coach has for us. Eventually we'll get there. We're not going to turn into a Super Bowl team overnight. It's going to take time. We want to peak at the right time.
"Everybody right now is trying so hard to do exactly what they're told instead of sometimes following their instincts."
Mark Brunell has taken an early lead in the quarterback competition, but mainly by default. In two games, Patrick Ramsey is 7 for 19 for 74 yards and has looked uncomfortable.
"Ramsey is feeling a little bit of pressure, I would think, because he was the man here last year," Coles said. "He didn't have anybody breathing down his neck. From the beginning, he was our quarterback and everybody knew it. This year, he's vying for a spot. And I think it makes it a little bit tougher to come in and be able to just relax and be yourself."
Gibbs, however, lumped Ramsey in with the other quarterbacks. "All three quarterbacks made some bad decisions," he said. "That's the way I look at it."
Brunell is 10 of 23 for 137 yards through two games, with a big chunk coming on the exquisitely thrown 61-yard touchdown to Darnerien McCants in the third quarter Saturday. Projected third-stringer Tim Hasselbeck is 13 of 25 for 183 yards.
The quarterback kinks have overshadowed Clinton Portis's statistics (nine carries for 26 yards in two games) with the first-string line providing him little room. But Gibbs believes that the unit improved -- noting a rushing average of 3.9 yards Saturday compared with 2.8 in the first exhibition -- and will be sturdy with more continuity. Right guard Randy Thomas played in his first game, and Kenyatta Jones took over for Jansen.
"After studying the film as far as the running game, I think what it did is pick up some," Gibbs said, "but we're still not where we need to be there."
The next chance to improve will be Saturday, when Washington plays the Dolphins in Miami.
Coles declared himself fit to practice today after bruising his right shin. That occurred late in the first quarter after he caught a 34-yard pass from Ramsey. At the end of the play, a defender stepped on Coles, leaving cleat marks.
When Coles limped into the locker room at halftime, it seemed as if he had aggravated his big right toe, which was fractured early in the 2002 season. Coles said the shin is less of a concern than the toe. "There ain't nothing worse than the toe," said Coles, who wears a specially designed insert for his right shoe. "After dealing with this toe, I think I'm pretty much set to deal with anything."
The worst injury news came when tight end Fred Baxter's MRI exam revealed a partially torn tendon in his knee. The 12-year veteran, who was competing to back up Walter Rasby, will likely be out at least two weeks.
On the plus side, nose tackle Brandon Noble withstood his first NFL game in a year after coming back from a severe knee injury. The protective cast for his right hand was the biggest obstacle Saturday.
"It felt good to be out there again," said Noble, who broke his hand last week. "I've got some work to do, but it'll come back when I get this doggone thing off."