- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

The Washington Redskins expect improvements in punt coverage this week, particularly because veteran linebacker Eddie Mason is back on the unit.

Mason, a fifth-year veteran, was released in the final preseason cuts in favor of undrafted rookie Donny Green. But Green was caught too far inside on the Redskins' first punt at San Diego, and Tim Dwight took it back 84 yards to score the Chargers' first touchdown and start a long day for the Redskins. The next day Green was cut and Mason was back.

Punter Bryan Barker worked with Mason in Jacksonville in 1998, the year Barker ranked third in the NFL in net punting average (38.5 yards). After one game this season, Barker's average stands at 26.6 yards last among the 14 NFC punters listed in the league statistics. A 1997 Pro Bowl selection, Barker thinks Mason will make a big difference.

"He's an absolute professional," Barker said of Mason. "I think sometimes you may be looking for youth, speed, but wisdom and knowing the field, as we've seen many times, is sometimes more important. Bringing Eddie back is tremendous because he knows the game. That's real comforting for me to know he's on the right side, as a right-footed punter."

Overall, Barker thinks the punting game wasn't as bad as it seemed in the opener. He said his 29-yard punt was ruled out of bounds well before it actually crossed the sideline and that on his 33-yarder, it was an accomplishment simply to get it out of the end zone.

"I mean, if you take away the return, I think we netted close to 40 yards [per punt], which would be tops in the league," Barker said. "We have the ability to do it. It's just doing it consistently."

Actually, the Redskins would be averaging 37.2 yards without Dwight's touchdown, a figure that would rank seventh in the NFC. New York Giants rookie Rodney Williams, cut by the Redskins in training camp last summer, leads the NFL with a 55.1-yard gross average and a 45.9-yard net.

The club might get a break this week if Green Bay Packers returner Allen Rossum doesn't play. The NFC's ninth-best punt returner and third-best kickoff returner last season, Rossum is doubtful because of a hamstring injury.

Regardless, there is a feeling among Redskins players that they have the personnel to be a strong punt coverage unit. And coach Marty Schottenheimer believes things will improve further when young players learn their roles and begin to play them aggressively.

"[Punt coverage is] not something you can be tentative in doing," Schottenheimer said. "You've got to be full, all-out, ready to go."

George still silent

Quarterback Jeff George continues to decline interviews at Redskin Park. Since being benched in the opener, he has spoken only to WRC-TV (Ch. 4) and to reporters at Washington Hospital Center on Tuesday.

Schottenheimer doesn't believe George's silence indicates anything about character or leadership ability, and with that in mind the coach has not broached the subject with George.

"I don't know that [George's silence] has any effect on his performance, and my concern is the performance," Schottenheimer said.

There are tentative plans to have the media meet today with George, who was told last week by Schottenheimer that he would start again this week.

Injury reports

Redskins fullback Bryan Johnson is questionable with a flu-like illness that had him in the hospital yesterday. Linebacker Robert Jones is probable with a sprained knee that is mostly healed, though missed time prevents him, for now, from competing for Kevin Mitchell's starting job in the middle.

Right guard David Brandt (knee) was not listed on the injury report and should have no problem playing Monday, Schottenheimer said. Linebacker LaVar Arrington did not practice because of an illness he described as "not quite strep throat but along the lines of that." Arrington said he was in the emergency room Sunday and lost seven pounds, but he expects to return to limited practice today and play Monday.

The Packers listed rookie defensive end Jamal Reynolds (knee) as probable.

Extra points

Defensive end Bruce Smith is happy to have regular officials back. He complained extensively after the opener because he felt he was clipped on one play by Chargers tight end Freddie Jones and that the replacement referee dismissed him. Smith actually lodged a formal complaint with the league but apparently didn't get much satisfaction.

"I won't even get into [the league's response]," Smith said. "It's the same old cliches." …

The Redskins announced a deal to provide Spanish coverage of their games on WBZS-FM (92.7) and WBPS-FM (94.3).

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