- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

They have combined for 330 sacks, 16 Pro Bowls and two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. Arguably, the greatest defensive end ever, youngest Pro Bowl starter and a first-round draft choice who skipped college now play alongside one another.
For the Washington Redskins to beat the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's season opener at FedEx Field, they must overcome the latter's marquee defensive line. Free agent ends Reggie White and Chuck Smith and tackle Eric Swann join incumbent tackle Sean Gilbert to form one of the NFL's most notorious, if not infamous, lines.
Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson called the Panthers' quartet "the ultimate warriors of the game." Guard Keith Sims rated them "the best in the business." But that's like saying the "Three Tenors" sing well.
White's return after a one-year retirement merely delays his Hall of Fame induction. Swann and Gilbert are two of the more talented tackles of the past decade. Smith seems like the lightweight in comparison, yet most teams would love to start him.
"When you see a guard five yards in the backfield, when you see a tackle lying on the ground and the guy he was blocking making the tackle, those are the guys we're playing against," said Redskins running back Stephen Davis. "I'm just anxious to see what our guys can do against a defensive line that's great."
Unfortunately, Washington's only serious preseason injury will keep center Cory Raymer sidelined for another month, and Pro Bowl guard Tre Johnson is suspended for the opener because of hitting an official during the playoffs. Davis often ran behind Raymer and Johnson. Now he will hit a gap behind center Mark Fischer, making his first regular-season start, and reserve guard Jay Leeuwenburg. Fullback Mike Sellers might be used more for protection than plowing the road, meaning Davis will get even less help. The matchup in the pits could decide the game.
"Every man just has to go into it saying 'What's it going to take for me to win this [matchup]?' " said Leeuwenburg, who will face Swann and sometimes White. I have got my hands full. Eric Swann is a great player. He appears to be rejuvenated. He's hungrier than he has been. He's happier. When he has all those things going on, he's a force."
This is your basic "smashmouth" game between NFC East rivals. Carolina is 0-4 against Washington since entering the NFL in 1995, but three games were decided by three or fewer points, including last year's 38-36 thriller.
"They know what we do. We know what they do," Brad Johnson said. "I don't see many tricks. They'll bring some eight-man blitzes, but it's nothing we haven't seen before."
Said offensive tackle Jon Jansen: "They don't need tricks. We won't pull any tricks either. Let's play football."
Actually, it will be all new to offensive tackle Chris Samuels. The first-rounder will face Smith, though White could be flipped for a couple of snaps. The Redskins may keep a tight end near Samuels at the start to ensure the rookie isn't overwhelmed. Then again, Samuels didn't allow one quarterback pressure last year at Alabama.
"I don't think I'll be nervous to the point I'll go out there and screw the whole thing up, but I will have butterflies," he said. "After that first lick, they'll all leave."
After spending the preseason practicing against defensive end Bruce Smith, Samuels should be ready for the pass-rushing Smith.
"He's going against one of the best every day with Bruce Smith, so when Bruce turns it up Chris gets a taste of what it's like out there," Leeuwenburg said.
With Tre Johnson suspended, Jansen's 16 games last season make him the senior Redskins linemen. Fischer and Samuels make their first career starts. Sims missed four games with knee problems last year, and Leeuwenburg joined the Redskins in June.
Jansen's successful rookie season was overshadowed by first-round cornerback Champ Bailey's standout play. Twice dominating New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan earned Jansen a leaguewide reputation as a physical tackle. However, Jansen said White's renowned "club move" that pushes aside tackles will compensate for anything the 39-year-old has lost with age.
"Some people say Reggie's a little older, but you don't lose a step when you have the knowledge he has and have thrown so many tackles on their butts," Jansen said. "He did it in the preseason, so I have to play one of my best games. I grew up watching Reggie play. It will be a lot of fun to say, 'I played Reggie, and this is what I did.' "

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