The Washington Times - October 13, 2011, 10:29PM

Some notes, quotes and observations from Thursday at Redskins Park:

RB Tim Hightower wants to hold on to his starting spot against Philadelphia in light of Ryan Torain’s breakout game against St. Louis. Despite the Redskins’ multi-back approach—a common characteristic of teams coached by Mike Shanahan—Hightower believes the title of starter is not overrated.

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“Not to me,” he said. “That’s my job. It doesn’t guarantee anything—you can start and then come out of the game for the rest of the game—but that’s what I take pride in. That’s what I do. It’s important to me, just like winning is important to me.”

Coaches won’t say who will start because they believe the secrecy gives them a competitive advantage. However, decisions about dividing playing time between Hightower, Torain and rookie Roy Helu are fluid, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.

“Every game is its own individual game, and you see how it plays out,” he said. “You get a feel for three guys going during the week. You get a feel in the game and you usually just go with your gut and how it’s going. You never know what will happen, and we have three guys that understand that and will all handle it well.”

For me, Torain’s proven ability to gain yards after contact give him an edge. He had 105 yards after contact against St. Louis; he had 135 yards on 19 carries in that game.

Hightower is superior in pass protection, but he totaled only 65 yards on 22 carries in the last two games. He battled a left shoulder injury, which he suffered in Week 1 against New York. He tried to conceal it from coaches, but Mike Shanahan ultimately noticed that something wasn’t right against St. Louis.

“It limited my playing ability, but it’s better, and I’m looking forward to playing,” Hightower said.

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Hightower’s take on Philly’s ‘Wide 9’ defensive front: “We’ve really got to be patient and stick to our assignments because there are big plays in it.”

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TE Chris Cooley had fluid drained from his surgically repaired left knee earlier this week and was limited in practice for a second straight day. “A little bit of a setback,” Mike Shanahan said.

WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring), CB Phillip Buchanon (neck) and Hightower (shoulder) were limited.

Losing Armstrong for the second straight game would deprive the Redskins of their biggest vertical threat.

“If there’s no one scared of [someone] to run by them, it definitely changes,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Not every one of our receivers is as fast as [Armstrong]. None of our guys are slow, so all of them are capable of getting down the field. When you have a guy who is faster than everyone else, it obviously opens it up a little bit more.”

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I hope you had a chance to read the story in Thursday’s paper about how QB Rex Grossman’splay will determine the Redskins’ fate over the final 12 games. In my opinion, it’s all about him. With the defense playing better, the Redskins are going to go as far as Rex takes them.

Of course, the quality of Rex’s play depends on many variables and his supporting cast, but he has to see the field well and protect the ball. There’s no gray area there. Sunday’s game will be a great measure because the offense will have to produce at a high level to hang with Philly.

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Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett believes FS Oshiomogho Atogwe hasn’t forced a turnover through four games because of the hamstring injury he suffered during the preseason.

“So far this week, I think he’s finally breaking through that and he’s looking a lot better to me,” Haslett said. “He’s not concerned so much about that hamstring.”

Atogwe was added to the injury report Thursday with a toe problem, but he fully participated in practice.

Atogwe will play faster once he’s healthy and accustomed to the defense. Maybe it’s still too early for that. He still has been fairly solid in run support.

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The Redskins in their win over Philadelphia last October were physical at the line against WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Washington disrupted their release and threw off the timing of Philadelphia’s offense.

In the rematch, a 31-point Philly win, the Eagles adjusted by “widening them out a little bit more so it was hard to put hands on them,” CB Kevin Barnes said. “They lined up in a lot of bunches the first game, so we were able to jam up Jackson and Maclin a lot. The second game they didn’t really do it too much.”

The physical play Washington executed in last year’s win is a point of emphasis this week. “Definitely getting hands on those guys and keep disrupting them,” Barnes said. “[QB Michael] Vick, he wants to throw the ball downfield, so we’ve got to slow those guys up.”

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Here’s NT Barry Cofield with some welcome sanity regarding “first place” talk:

“When you’re picked to finish last and at this point you’re sitting in first, it’s kind of cool,” he said. “It gives you something to continue to build on. But obviously it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Throughout my first five years I never felt we were worse than 5-3 at the halfway mark. A lot of 6-2 starts and we didn’t finish down the stretch. I’ll be preaching that to these guys. The one year I did finish strong I got a ring to show for it. That’s the key. Being focused week to week is incredibly important.”

A win on Sunday wouldn’t make the Redskins the division favorite. They still might be only a half-game ahead of the Giants. It might prove Washington is for real, but there’s still a long way to go. Win a divisional road game, then we’ll talk.

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Maligned Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo took over that position during the offseason after spending 13 years as the team’s offensive line coach.

Jim Haslett laughed when asked if he could ever switch sides of the ball.

“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m not even trying to do it. I know Juan. First of all, I think he’s a heck of a football coach. He played on defense when he played. It’s a little transition and you do study defenses. It is different and it takes some time just to get into a rhythm. To me, even being a head coach for a part of my career and then going back and being a coordinator, it’s not like it just rolls off your tongue. It takes time to get used to doing it again.

“Even last year, when I came back and I hadn’t run this defense in 10 years, then come back and you think it’s going to be easy. It’s a transition period. I’m sure Juan’s going through it and I’m sure he’ll be fine in the long run, but it does take a little bit of time just to get accustomed to new coaches. They bring in a new defensive line coach, a new secondary coach and that takes some time to get used to coordinating everything to be on the same page.”

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The NFL recently finalized the 2012 scheduling formula, setting 14 of the Redskins’ 16 opponents for next season.

The new formula follows the rotation of formula in place since 2002 with one exception: the Redskins will host the same-place finisher from the NFC North again next season and travel to the same-place finisher from the NFC West. They also host the common NFC North finisher (Minnesota) this season in December.

Washington’s 2012 opponents are as follows:

HOME: Dallas, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Carolina, Baltimore, Cincinnati, NFC North common finisher

AWAY: Dallas, NY Giants, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, NFC West common finisher

Dates and times of games will be finalized and announced in spring 2012.

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I joined The Sports Reporters on ESPN980 this evening to talk Redskins-Eagles. Click here to listen to the segment.