The Washington Redskins trimmed down to the NFL's mandatory 53-man roster yesterday, releasing primarily young and inexperienced players as well as nine-year veteran defensive lineman Regan Upshaw and 12-year veteran tight end Fred Baxter. The Redskins open the season Sunday against Tampa Bay at FedEx Field with Coach Joe Gibbs, who was not made available to comment yesterday, back from an 11-year absence from football.
Upshaw started eight games for the Redskins last season and appeared in all 16 games after being signed as a free agent, but failed to crack the final roster. Baxter missed almost all of training camp with a knee injury and said he is now healthy enough to begin practicing fully and hopes to catch on with another team.
Washington added running back John Simon (shoulder) to the injured reserve list -- meaning he cannot be activated by the club this season and could be released once he is healthy enough to practice -- and reached an injury settlement with linebacker Chris Clemons.
Twenty-one other players were released, including wide receivers Jafar Williams (Maryland), Sean Dillard, Dameane Douglas and Gari Scott; offensive linemen Pita Elisara, Bill Ferrario, Ben Nowland, Daryl Terrell and Marcus Spriggs; defensive backs Rashad Bauman, Rufus Brown and Garnell Wilds; tight end Leonard Stephens; defensive linemen Ryan Boschetti, Darrell Wright and Cedric Killings, quarterback Gibran Hamdan, place kicker Ola Kimrin and running back Sultan McCullough.
Redskins Park was quiet for much of the day with players getting calls from coaches asking them to report here to return their playbooks. Most appeared to take their release in stride as they trickled in from morning through mid-afternoon. Almost all of the moves made yesterday were expected and several players cut could be signed to the practice squad should they clear waivers by noon today.
Teams can carry eight players on that squad, and Wilds and Brown -- both undrafted rookie free agents who earned praise from the coaches during camp -- as well as McCullough, who appeared for Washington in one game last season, are candidates for the practice squad, although they could draw interest from other NFL teams.
"Honestly, I'm good enough to be on the roster," said McCullough, who lost out to Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright for the final running back spots and spoke to running backs coach Earnest Byner about the practice squad yesterday. "To me it's like a slap in the face [to go on the practice squad], but I do want to be here, so hopefully everything will work out."
The running back competition was one of the stiffest in camp, with former draft picks Betts and Cartwright winning. Betts said he never worried about being cut despite missing most of camp with a hamstring injury, while Cartwright was concerned that missing last Friday's game with a pinched nerve in his neck would hurt his cause.
"I did the things I needed to do, and I was able to make the roster," said Cartwright, who will return to practice this week.
Spriggs was signed early in camp to bolster the depth of the offensive line but suffered an ankle injury in the second to last preseason game and was released. However, Gibbs spoke highly of him during an exit interview, Spriggs said, and he may get signed if he is healthy and the team has a roster opening.
"I believe in Coach Gibbs," Spriggs said, "and he gave me his word that he'll give me a call in a few [weeks], so I think I'm going to hold out with any other interviews with any other teams, even though I'm sure they're probably calling. But I really believe in what he's doing here. I bit into it, I'm biting into it and I'm still biting into it, so I'm just going to wait and see what happens."
Baxter's injury also played a big role in his release as he was unable to show what he can do to the new coaching staff after being signed as a free agent in June. He declined to pursue an injury settlement with the team in hopes of finding another team immediately.
Players such as Brown and Wilds could find themselves back at Redskins Park when the team returns to practice should they agree to the practice squad.
"I was proud of [my] effort," Brown said, "and just thankful for the opportunity to play for the Redskins and learn from a lot of good players. I'm really thankful for the opportunity."
Redskins Notes: Tackle Chris Samuels (ankle) said he expects to practice this week and will be able to play Sunday. Guard Randy Thomas also hopes to play Sunday and he, too, received treatment yesterday, leaving Redskins Park with a large ice wrap around his injured neck.