- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

It means everything to nearly two dozen Washington Redskins and virtually nothing to anyone else.
So goes tonight's preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The contest marks the 11th hour for reserves trying to impress coaches before Sunday's paring to the 53-man roster, but for starters and spectators it's just another tease before the Sept. 3 season opener against Carolina.
Redskins starters including quarterback Jeff George, who is playing in place of Brad Johnson, still out with a foot infection will play roughly a quarter, leaving the second- and third-stringers plenty of time to fight for the remaining roster spots. Fourteen players must be cut by 4 p.m. Sunday.
"People want to make a cut [now], but everyone on our football team is alive," coach Norv Turner said. "Every week we have had unfortunate injuries where all of a sudden someone who thought he wasn't going to play or make the team is right in the middle of it. [That player] may have a big role in our opener against Carolina."
The only starting role being contested is that of punter. Tommy Barnhardt missed a second straight practice yesterday with back spasms, but the 15-year veteran was improving and should be able to play. Barnhardt is competing with Rodney Williams, a powerful but erratic 23-year-old.
"I'm just going to treat it like I treat every other game like it's my last game," Williams said. "I'm going to do what they need me to do get the ball up, get it out fast and pray for a good game."
Most of Williams' brethren on the bubble also spent this week trying to shrug off the pressure.
"I'm 24. I'm stressed out enough. I'm too young to be this stressed out," second-string offensive tackle Ed Ellis said. "I'm not worried about getting cut or anything like that. I'm just going out to do my job to the best of my ability."
But a great performance could decide one of several roster battles. At defensive tackle, Delbert Cowsette, a seventh-round draft pick out of Maryland, is battling Barron Tanner and Jerry DeLoach. At wide receiver, 5-foot-6 Marcus Stiggers and cut-and-re-signed Cory Allen are eyeing the fifth spot while Derrius Thompson is sidelined with a thumb injury.
Meanwhile, two standout veterans, defensive end Nolan Harrison and cornerback Tyronne Drakeford, will play their first preseason games after missing virtually all of training camp. Harrison (85 career starts) is recovering from a sprained knee, Drakeford (43) from a strained hamstring.
"I don't feel pressure," said Harrison, a Steeler the past three seasons. "Everything that happens was meant to happens for a reason. I'm going to play hard and do the things I've been doing for 10 years."
Cornerback Tim Denton also feels pressure-free, but for a different reason. Denton, sidelined the past two weeks with a sprained toe, has been on the bubble every August since coming out of Sam Houston in 1996. He is questionable tonight, when Drakeford and David Terrell will be fighting for his spot.
"Every year, same situation," Denton said with a shrug. "It's nothing big."
In the Steelers (3-1), Washington (2-1) faces a powerful rushing team that expects to improve with the return of running backs Jerome Bettis (bruised knee) and Richard Huntley (strained hamstring). Despite the pair's absence, Pittsburgh has averaged five yards per carry, led by 159 yards from former West Virginia standout Amos Zereoue.
The Steelers' defense also has been solid, allowing just 11 points per game with a 13-0 shutout of Carolina. But their passing offense again is suspect, with starter Kordell Stewart (35 percent completions) so far unable to maximize the talents of rookie split end Plaxico Burress and second-year flanker Troy Edwards.
Of course, none of Pittsburgh's starters will play much either. But Turner still wants to win, just as he wants his reserves to make compelling 11th-hour arguments.
"I think [the game] is real big for all the guys," Turner said. "Number one, I would like to see us win the football game. Number two, I would like to see those guys who are going to play three quarters show me that … they have learned something and can go play at a high level."

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