Nose tackle Brandon Noble didn't start the past two preseason games, coming off the bench to relieve sixth-year veteran Joe Salave'a. When the Washington Redskins open the season Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Noble expects Salave'a to be the starter. It would leave Noble short of his goal, which was set before an excruciating rehabilitation of a severe knee injury that caused him to miss last season. However, his comeback has been remarkable enough that the fifth-year veteran enters the season on a high note.

"Just the fact that I am where I am is something to be proud of," he said. "I've worked hard to get here. I'm still not 100 percent. I had the setback breaking my hand, and those are the things that have slowed me down, and I haven't played as well as I think I can, or I will be able to eventually. And Joe has had a great camp. That would lead me to believe that he'll be the starter and that's fine.

"It's a team game. The nice thing about playing defense is you get to rotate D-linemen, and I just have to go in there and spell Joe if I'm active. I have to play as best as I can. It's not important to me to start. I just want to get back on the field."

Last preseason, Noble dislocated his left kneecap and tore two ligaments during a loss to the New England Patriots. He was placed on injured reserve and his career was believed to be in jeopardy.

"There are days when it's painful and it swells, and there are days when I feel great," said Noble, who before the injury had played in every game of his NFL career. "It's a process. I truly believe now after going through it, it's definitely something that takes two years to feel completely healthy. And that's what they keep telling me. Just wait until next year, so this year I just have to grind through it and do what I can to contribute."

Salave'a, a 6-foot-3, 295-pounder known for his strength, has started one NFL game. But the high-octane lineman, nicknamed "Big Joe," has been a solid NFL reserve and played well in training camp. He was selected in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in 1998.

Empty Seats Irk Arrington

Linebacker LaVar Arrington was disappointed when he looked into the stands at FedEx Field during last week's 27-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons and saw openings despite an announced crowd of 72,892.

"I feel so good about this team, I'm personally challenging the fans. I saw a lot of empty seats," he said. "We talk about having the greatest fans in the world and different things like that. I think this is the year for the whole shebang.

"I just think about RFK -- you hear all the legend and all the stories about the stands shaking and stuff like that. It was just a horrible place for teams to come in and play. I think this is the year that the fans really need to be a part of it. If you don't want to come, give your tickets to somebody else. I saw a couple of people who were looking for tickets, couldn't find tickets and there were all those empty seats.

"I think this is the year of the 12th man. I honestly believe that. We need all areas clicking. We're going to make a good run this year. It would be sad to say that we lost a game because the [opponent] felt comfortable coming to FedEx Field."

'Emergency List' in Progress

Although the Redskins worked out free agent tailback Lamar Smith yesterday, no signing is imminent, Redskins Vice President Vinny Cerrato said. The team has worked out a few free agents, specifically tailbacks, in the past several days.

"We're just gathering information," said Cerrato, who added that the Redskins picked up reserve linebacker Dominique Stevenson on waivers and released linebacker Clifton Smith. "We're developing an emergency list for when guys get hurt. We won't make any more moves this week."