With more defensive backs remaining on the roster than any other position players, all 13 figure to play at least a few plays in the Washington Redskins' preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night.
For the first time since before spring minicamp, almost all of the safeties and cornerbacks are healthy, with Walt Harris and Ryan Clark back from their latest nagging injuries. However, starting safety Matt Bowen is out until at least next week because of a badly bruised chest.
Harris, the projected starter at cornerback, has played sparingly in preseason, missing the last two games because of a quadriceps problem, and, although more of Washington's premier defensive players will be rested for much of the finale in Baltimore, he figures to play quite a bit. Cornerback Carlos Rogers, the ninth overall draft pick, is still rounding into game shape after a lengthy absence because of an ankle injury, and Clark has missed the past few games with a knee injury.
Given the dearth of available defensive backs for much of the preseason, coaches still have lots of evaluating.
"You always want to have numbers back there," cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker said. "You want to save as much as you can. That's normal around the league. You'll see a lot of teams still have a lot of DBs on their roster."
Rogers has been starting alongside Shawn Springs at cornerback, and Harris needs more work. Harris's experience likely gives him the edge, but Rogers has impressed the staff. Whoever does not start with Springs would likely be the nickel back -- used extensively in this defensive scheme.
"There's no question this is a big game for Walt," Walker said. "He didn't play very well in the first preseason game, then he got hurt with the nagging injuries."
Sean Taylor has resumed his role as the starting free safety, but Bowen's status for the home opener Sept. 11 could be uncertain until late next week. Clark thrived in that role when Bowen suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2004, but he has missed the last two weeks with his injury. Veteran Pierson Prioleau has performed well when starting at safety, safety Omar Stoutmire has made some plays on special teams, and free agent safety Siddeeq Shabazz has only been in camp about 10 days.
Cornerbacks Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown spent most of last season on Washington's practice squad, and are hoping for a more prominent role this season. Veteran cornerback Ade Jimoh has struggled in the secondary but is prized on special teams, and Eric Joyce was another late signing. Tomorrow will be the last opportunity for all the bubble players to shine, as the Redskins have light work scheduled for Friday and final cuts will be made Saturday.
Coach Joe Gibbs maintained his moratorium on pronouncing how long he expects his starting offense to play tomorrow, although it seems unlikely it would continue playing the entire first half. . . . Running back Ladell Betts (swollen ankle) was walking better yesterday but did not practice. Linebacker Robert McCune missed practice with a groin strain and wide receiver Taylor Jacobs (turf toe) is out until at least next week. . . . The case of Charles Caughman, who was arrested for assault along with Redskins safety Sean Taylor in June, has been moved from early September after his attorney required back surgery. Caughman's case is now scheduled to be heard in early October. Taylor's lawyer is expected to ask for a postponement shortly. Taylor's case is set for Sept. 12. . . . Wide receivers Peerless Price and Peter Warrick, both former high draft picks, were released by their respective teams and generated no immediate interest from the Redskins, although Gibbs did not rule out discussing the players with the scouting department.