The Washington Redskins made their final cut necessary before yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline, releasing cornerback Ralph Brown.

The move caught many at Redskins Park by surprise because Brown, 25, was signed to a two-year, $1.38 million contract in March after spending the last four seasons with the New York Giants. His deal included a $250,000 signing bonus and team officials believed he would play considerably, most often as a nickel -- or fifth -- defensive back.

Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, said the team released Brown early to give him a better chance to sign with another team, a policy that the Redskins also applied to veteran defensive back Ifeanyi Ohalete and linebacker Kevin Mitchell, who were early cuts.

Brown's departure had more to do with the emergence of young players in the secondary and was not an indictment of Brown's play, Williams said, adding that several teams have contacted the Redskins about Brown in recent days.

"We want to make sure he gets a job," Williams said, "and we have some young guys who have had a really good camp."

Rookie safety Sean Taylor has gained lots of attention for a superior training camp and ascension to a starting role, but he is not the only defensive back to catch Williams's eye. He pointed to undrafted free agents Rufus Brown (Florida State) and Garnell Wilds (Virginia Tech) as deserving of praise and it would seem both have a chance to crack the roster. They must continue to make plays on special teams and in the secondary, Williams said, after the defense lagged in the last preseason game at St. Louis.

"Rufus has been battling really hard and he can do some things in special teams," Williams said. "He's one of our quickest, most ballistic, movement guys we have. He needs to step up and help [special teams coach] Danny Smith this weekend as does Wilds. Both of those guys come from backgrounds where the [NFL] game is not too big because they played at a pretty high level in college and both have special teams-oriented backgrounds, too. So it's good for them."

The Redskins are still carrying 11 defensive backs among the 76 players in camp. Washington must cut down to 53 players by Sunday.

Injury Report

It is looking increasingly likely that linebacker Mike Barrow will miss the entire preseason with his knee injury and could miss the opening of the regular season against Tampa Bay on Sept. 12. Barrow again missed practice yesterday and has put no timetable on his return. Linebacker LaVar Arrington practiced for the second straight day after missing two games with a knee injury and is participating in more contact drills by the day, making a return for Friday night's game against Atlanta more likely.

Tackle Chris Samuels is no longer wearing a walking cast but his sprained ankle remained taped and he was unable to practice yesterday. He is not expected to play Friday night. Guard Randy Thomas rested yesterday after getting an MRI exam on his neck injury; the MRI showed no structural damage. Thomas said he may be able to play Friday. Offensive lineman Marcus Spriggs missed practice for the second straight day because of a sprained ankle. Should Samuels and Thomas not play Friday, the Redskins would be without three of the six linemen who were projected starters when camp began. Tight end Fred Baxter remains out with a knee injury.

Team Does Lunch

The Redskins practiced early yesterday -- from 8 until 9:30 a.m. -- and then traveled by bus to the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner for their annual welcome home luncheon. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was named the team's 2003 offensive player of the year, cornerback Fred Smoot was named the defensive player of the year and kicker John Hall was the special teams player of the year. Coach Joe Gibbs was given a standing ovation and again was effusive in his praise for Redskins fans. "If you want to coach or play, there's no better place to be," he said.