Safety Sean Taylor's homecoming to south Florida provided the rookie with an instant highlight Saturday night as he earned his first NFL start in the Washington Redskins' preseason game with the Miami Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium. Taylor, the fifth overall pick from the University of Miami, made an instant impact in his first two exhibition games, when he was with the reserves, and he was moved ahead of free safety Andre Lott in the starting lineup against Miami.
Taylor quickly made his mark on the field. He was all over the field on Miami's first drive, chasing down ball carriers. Early in the drive, wide receiver Chris Chambers caught a pass in front of Taylor, and the rookie was called for an illegal contact penalty that negated a third-down sack by Antonio Pierce and gave the Dolphins a first down.
Taylor would more than atone for that mistake, however, as he single-handedly stalled the Dolphins drive. After Chambers caught a pass between the hash marks in Washington territory, Taylor cracked into him, leading with his shoulder. Chambers fumbled the ball and Taylor scooped it up and headed upfield. Chambers remained on his back for several minutes and was eventually helped to his feet by a teammate.
Taylor has made a big play in every appearance with the Redskins, picking off two passes and returning one for a touchdown in his debut, and forcing a fumble last Saturday against Carolina. He seems destined to be the opening day starter against Tampa Bay Sept. 12 after beginning training camp with the third string.
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs had bemoaned his team's lack of running prowess in its first two contests, and wasted little time establishing that all-important aspect of his system Saturday night. The Redskins ran 13 offensive plays in the first quarter, and 10 of them were runs. On the opening drive, which Clinton Portis capped with a one-yard plunge into the end zone, Washington ran the ball seven straight times after quarterback Mark Brunell found wideout Laveranues Coles for a 17-yard gain.
Portis carried the ball seven times for 37 yards, including a pretty 22-yard jaunt on a sweep to the left side, and left the game after giving the Redskins a 7-0 lead. Portis, who was acquired from Denver in exchange for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey during the offseason, had run the ball nine times for a total of 29 yards in the first two preseason games.
The offensive line was dominating early on after failing to open holes for the running backs in the previous game. The Redskins appeared comfortable running to the right, left and up the middle. During one span in the first half Washington went to the run 10 straight times spread over two possessions.
Harris Makes Debut
Cornerback Walt Harris made his debut for the Redskins. Harris was coming off of major knee surgery at the time he was signed by Washington in the off-season and returned to practice last week. . . . Cornerback Shawn Springs left the first quarter suffering from a stomach virus and did not return. . . . Linebackers LaVar Arrington (knee sprain) and Mike Barrow (tendinitis in knee), wide receiver Darnerien McCants (ankle), tight end Fred Baxter (knee), cornerback Rashad Bauman (hamstring), linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring), receiver Cliff Russell (hamstring) and running back Ladell Betts (hamstring) did not accompany the team to Miami. Arrington is expected to return to practice Monday, while Barrow, another starter, has been out for most of training camp. The Redskins hope that Barrow can play at least a few downs in the final two preseason games, but he has not practiced in two weeks. Pierce took Arrington's starting spot, while Lemar Marshall started in place of Barrow. . . . Former Redskins quarterback Sage Rosenfels, the third-string quarterback for the Dolphins, was playing on only a few hours of sleep. His wife gave birth to the couple's first child Friday night. . . . Miami was without its two premier offensive players, as running back Ricky Williams (retired) and receiver David Boston (injured) are both out for the season.