During Thursday's practice, cornerback Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers chatted on the sidelines -- without a helmet or pads -- near their position coach, Dewayne Walker, while watching 11-on-11 drills. By the end of the afternoon session, cornerback Eric Joyce was carted off the field from heat exhaustion.

Washington's cornerbacks have been hard hit by injuries, leaving Walker with four healthy players most of the week.

When the Redskins played the Baltimore Ravens in a scrimmage last week, cornerbacks Rufus Brown and Ade Jimoh were on the first unit. The injuries have forced Walker to give players on the bubble ample opportunity. Springs (a Pro Bowl alternate last season), Rogers (the ninth overall pick) and Walt Harris (the nickel back last season) are virtually guaranteed roster spots. But Brown, Jimoh, Joyce, Artrell Hawkins and Garnell Wilds (Virginia Tech) are essentially competing for two spots.

"You always want to be healthy," said Walker, who had five cornerbacks on the team last season. "On the flip side of it, it kind of gives these guys opportunities. That's what they hope and dream for, and now they're getting it."

While Washington's offense struggled in the scrimmage, the defense was solid despite inexperienced cornerbacks getting the bulk of playing time. (Harris missed several practices last week with a quadriceps injury before returning early this week. Wilds is also back after missing both Tuesday sessions with thigh bruises.)

"You want the same production," Walker said. "The whole defensive staff, we're not going to make excuses. Those guys that step on the field on Saturday night, it's just like they're starters. We're going to hold everybody accountable."

Jimoh seems to have an advantage to make the roster because he has contributed to special teams over the past two seasons. But Jimoh said: "Everything is what you do for me now. I do have a passion for special teams. The more you can do the more your value."

Hawkins appeared in 14 games last season -- and started two -- for the Panthers. But the eighth-year veteran hasn't practiced in camp because of a hamstring injury. Hawkins, who is a strong performer on special teams, was signed to provide depth and seemed likely to make the team. But his spot may be in jeopardy if he doesn't regain his health enough to perform during camp.

"He's got to earn it, just like the other guys," Walker said. "We're going to take the best guys."

Brown, Jimoh and Wilds are undrafted free agents, but last year proved that status is inconsequential to Washington's defensive coaches. Brown and Wilds didn't make their NFL debuts until late in the season. In the regular season finale against Minnesota, Wilds showed promise, limiting star wideout Randy Moss for most of the game.

"Anytime there are injuries, it just means there are opportunities for somebody else," said Springs, who isn't expected to play tonight. "G-Money [Wilds] and Twitch [Brown] and those guys get to show what they can do."

Gardner Ready to Face Ex-Mates

Wide receiver Rod Gardner, who was traded to Carolina last month for a conditional sixth-round pick, gets a chance to play against some of his former teammates in tonight's game. He has an outside shot at starting against his old team because number two receiver Keary Colbert (hamstring) is questionable.

"It's going to be tough to play against friends," Gardner told Panthers beat reporters Thursday. "I like the way the schedule worked out; it's going to be exciting to compete with them.

"Last year, there were times during the season when I felt like the offense forgot about me. Ultimately, I decided it wasn't going to work for me there."

Walker said: "There's no question, he's going to want to come in and do a little damage. That's going to be our number one priority: to make sure we don't make this a homecoming for him."