Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington sprinted toward the quarterback on a blitz. He slowed down in time to avoid contact with Kyle Boller as Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick, wearing a straw hat, blew the play dead. Under scrimmage rules, defenders weren't allowed to hit quarterbacks, and the onus was on the head coach to halt play when defenders had a clear path to the quarterback.
The loosened structure was no different than in practices during the first week of training camp, with regimented two-hour sessions highlighted by 11-on-11 drills.
However, the Redskins were excited about practicing against another team Saturday in front of 35,517 fans at M&T Bank Stadium, even if extensive stats weren't being kept. Washington couldn't resist punctuating the play by leaping high, then shimmying, his trademark celebration in real games.
"It was a lot of fun," Washington said. "Anytime you get a chance to compete, I always think you should go out and do your best. It gave us a chance to actually hit somebody else beside ourselves and kind of see some things on film."
Despite allowing a few big passing plays, Washington's defense exhibited its attacking style while playing without key starters. The unit performed markedly better than the offense, which looked mostly sluggish behind quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell and rookie Jason Campbell. Pass protection was particularly shaky, but Coach Joe Gibbs said he was satisfied with the opportunity to evaluate several players who are on the bubble.
"I think it was a real good day. Now we'll have to see. Obviously it was very rough for us" on offense, said Gibbs, whose team has its preseason opener Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. "We have a lot of good film.
"Anytime you don't do well, it's a concern. But I think it is our first time out. We had a lot of people in there. So that was our main objective: We wanted to really evaluate everybody, particularly the guys past our starters."
On the first play of a seven-on-seven drill, linebacker Ray Lewis intercepted a Ramsey pass intended for H-back Chris Cooley near the right sideline. The play brought a roar from the crowd and a grimace from Ramsey. "I missed some throws early that were pretty routine throws," said Ramsey, who completed 5 of 8 passes, "but I felt like after that we did a little bit better."
The Redskins defense's first unit played without several starters, and the opening lineup included cornerbacks Rufus Brown and Ade Jimoh. Starting cornerback Shawn Springs pulled his hamstring during early drills and was kept out as a precautionary measure. And defensive end Renaldo Wynn didn't play because of the death of his father-in-law Friday night. The defense showed its familiar tenacity with obscure players, but the secondary allowed some long passing plays. "We missed too many tackles and gave up too many big plays," said safety Matt Bowen, who played with the third team. "It will be a good teaching film."
The practice was composed of 15 minutes of special-teams play, 30 minutes of seven-of-seven drills, then 11-on-11 drills. Each offense was scheduled for four sets of 10-play drives, starting at its 35-yard line. But with the scheduled two-hour practice running 15 minutes over after Campbell guided Washington's third set, Billick waved to officials that his team was done.
Gibbs was impressed by the size of the crowd, which included more than 4,500 walk-up spectators. (Tickets were $7 for lower-bowl seats and $12 behind the end zones.) Although the crowd was dominated by Ravens fans, the Redskins had a contingent of fans. "I saw a lot of Redskins jerseys," Gibbs said.
A group of roughly a dozen men wore yellow T-shirts emblazoned with "Free Sean Taylor," alluding to the safety's pending trial in Miami for a felony count of aggravated assault.
In the scrimmage, Taylor displayed his ball-hawking and hitting skills with while playing with the second team. On one play during 11-on-11 drills, Taylor's helmet flew off when he sprinted past the line of scrimmage for a hard hit on a Ravens tailback. Later, Taylor broke up a touchdown pass to an open receiver in the end zone. When a completion appeared imminent, Taylor sprinted a few yards and batted the ball down.
"I always kid [that] we keep him in a cage and feed him raw meat. On game day, we turn him loose," Washington said. "He's a heck of a player. We're glad to have him back."
Brunell, who was 4 for 8 with one interception, faced an opponent for the first time since Nov. 14 last year -- a Week 10 loss to Cincinnati -- when Ramsey replaced him.
"I told my wife the same thing: It'll be fun to be out in a stadium, even though it's just a scrimmage," Brunell said.