The Washington Times - October 12, 2011, 08:54PM

Notes, quotes and observations from Wednesday at Redskins Park:

I’m struggling with all of the “first place” talk this week. On one hand, sure, the Redskins are in first place. I get that. Winning this Sunday’s game against Philadelphia would go a long way toward making sure they stay there through the end of the month.

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On the other hand, it’s only Week 6! You remember the 6-2 start in 2008. How’d that work out? Last place. So let’s wait until, oh, I don’t know, Thanksgiving before talk of a title becomes an actual thing. This offense hasn’t scored more than 22 points in a game. That’s not exactly first-round bye material.

Kevin Sheehan made a great point during our chat on ESPN980 this afternoon. If the Redskins lose on Sunday, which I think they will, they’d be 3-2 and, depending on what the Giants and Cowboys do, possibly in third place. People would consider the NFC East wide open and the Eagles would likely resume their role as favorites at only 1½ games out.

It must be tempting to think about division titles considering this franchise’s drought, but the smart play is to resist.

Coach Mike Shanahan kept things in proper perspective on Wednesday:

“We’re four games into the season—I don’t even think about first place,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from my mind.

“The thing in my mind is playing a great game against Philadelphia. They came in here last year and kicked our rear ends. You know, 59-28, that was very embarrassing for our organization, as well as our coaching staff and our players. We’re hopefully getting better. We’re not there, by no means. We’ve got a lot to improve on on both sides of the ball. Our football team knows that and I think we’re smart enough to know that we’ve got to keep on getting better. If we play our best football through the season, then we’ve got a chance to do something special.”

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Updating Washington’s injuries:

WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring), TE Chris Cooley (knee), RB Tim Hightower (left shoulder) and CB Phillip Buchanon (neck) were limited in practice.

FB Darrel Young (hamstring) fully participated.

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CB Kevin Barnes does not expect his role to immediately change now that Phillip Buchanon has returned from his four-game suspension.

“I’m still the nickel,” he said.

During the first four games, Barnes played in the slot against formations with more than two receivers. He intercepted a long pass against Dallas. He also has been an active blitzer from the slot, pressuring the quarterback three times according to Redskins coaches.

“I did what the coaches asked me to do and made a few plays here and there,” Barnes said. “I think I staked my claim that I should be playing.”

Those are strong words from a former third-round pick that’s still looking to establish himself as an every-down player. The Redskins obviously don’t feel comfortable with him in that role or else they wouldn’t have gone so hard after Josh Wilson. Consistency has been problematic for Barnes, but he has a niche on the team.

What are the Redskins’ options on Sunday now that Buchanon is back? Last season in multi-receiver sets, No. 2 cornerback Carlos Rogers shifted to the slot, and Buchanon took Rogers’ place on the outside. Current No. 2 CB Josh Wilson has experience playing the slot.

So does Buchanon, who played it at the University of Miami and early in his NFL career. “If my number is called and I’m suited up [on Sunday], I’ll be ready to play,” he said.

We don’t really know how sharp Buchanon is after being away for so long, and he has been limited in practice—first by a shoulder injury and now by his neck. Judging from his quote above, he is acknowledging uncertainty regarding whether he’ll even be active on Sunday.

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Philadelphia’s ‘Wide 9’ defensive front has become a lightning rod for criticism. Check out this piece by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

Generally speaking, the Eagles line their defensive ends up unusually wide of the offensive tackles. The idea is to rush the passer with space to operate and build momentum. It can leave the inside soft against the run, though, so linebackers and safeties are counted on to make stops by reacting and shedding blocks. The Eagles have struggled with the scheme because of tackling and a few other issues that McLane examines. They’re giving up 5.01 yards per rush, 27th in the NFL.

“It’s going to make for some challenges in the running game to try to capture the edge, but it should open up some stuff inside, too,” Redskins LG Kory Lichtensteiger said. “A tendency that I’ve noticed is that they’re really looking to pass rush on every down. That’s really their emphasis. They’re trying to get good offs, and if it is a run play, use that penetration and try to disturb the play in the backfield.”

Might it be easier to cut block defensive linemen so intent on penetrating?

“It could, sometimes, if they’re just shot out of a cannon,” Lichtensteiger said. “I think the most challenging technique to try to cut is when somebody is playing lateral with their hands up.”

TE Chris Cooley likely will face those defensive ends, Jason Babin on the left and Darryl Tapp on the right, at some point. (Tapp replaces the injured Trent Cole.)

Here’s Cooley’s take:

“Their defensive ends basically get in a 40-yard dash sprint, pick a spot and go to it,” he said. “It makes it tough to block them. We’re going to try to do some things and put ourselves in advantageous positions—obviously we do that every week. But it’s a big challenge for us.

“I think there have been opportunities in the run game. Watching them play, it seems like they get out of position a little bit. They’re physically talented in the run game. I just think they’re not quite sound in their system, and that makes sense based on an offseason without OTAs and a new defensive system. You’ve got to expect that they’re going to play well and do the things they’re supposed to do, and we’re not going to go into the game assuming we can run the ball just because other teams have.”

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WR Jabar Gaffney chose his words carefully when asked if he has noticed the Eagles’ tackling woes.

“They come up when they’re asked to,” he said with a smile.

Philly missed 14 tackles against Buffalo, according to the website ProFootballFocus.com. CB Nnamdi Asomughua said the problem relates to gang tackling.

“We’ve all missed tackles, I’ve probably missed two, but coming from the experts, it can sound like you’ve missed 100,” Asomugha said. “The thing is, we’ve got to run to the football. No, you don’t have to teach how to tackle. Yes, we know how to tackle. We’re football players. We’ve been doing it our entire lives.

“When you run to the football, you get guys down. Every single team in the National Football League missed tackles, and there are missed tackles on the majority of plays in the game. The thing about it is, when everybody is getting to the football, those missed tackles aren’t as blown up as when it’s one guy, and not everybody else is around it.”

Now would be a good time to mention RB Ryan Torain’s 105 yards after contact against St. Louis. I’m thinking he’ll touch the ball a time or two on Sunday. And considering Tim Hightower’s shoulder injury, it makes even more sense to pound Torain.

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Eagles coach Andy Reid was a real bundle of joy on his teleconference with Redskins media. This is my third season on the beat, making today my fifth Andy Reid conference call. He’s notorious for making a mockery of these things, but today was a new low.

Reporter: “Andy, what do you remember about last year’s game at FedEx Field between these two teams?”

(Nine-second pause)

Reid: “It’s always a crazy game when you play against the Washington Redskins. The NFC East is always a knock-down, drag-out fight every time you play one of the teams.”

Reporter: “But specifically the game at FedEx Field last year. Do you recall much about it?”

Reid: “I have a short memory.”

Charming.

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I’m not sure any of you care about the indoor practice facility that the Redskins are slowly constructing, but it becomes a topic of conversation on rainy days such as today. Progress has been very slow, and the Nov. 1 completion date that Mike Shanahan mentioned a few weeks ago looks to be a long shot.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much rain in a three-week, four-week time period in my life, even if you’re in Seattle,” Shanahan said. “And I know one thing about construction: you cannot lay a foundation if it’s raining outside. So there’s nothing we can do about it.”

For you turf dorks like me, the Redskins chose FieldTurf to be the surface of their indoor facility. That’s the same brand used at New Giants Stadium. Cowboys Stadium has GreenFields synthetic turf.