- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier yesterday all but named quarterback Danny Wuerffel as the starter for tomorrow's game at Tennessee, saving an official announcement for this morning as planned.

"I think everybody pretty much knows pretty close to who's going to play," Spurrier said, referring to heavy speculation that Wuerffel will start. "But we'll announce it tomorrow."

Rookie Patrick Ramsey, despite impressive progress since being elevated from the scout team 2½ weeks ago, apparently remains too prone to mistakes for the job right now.

"He looks like a rookie," Spurrier said. "But he's learning. He's coming around. He throws a lot of good ones, and then at times it's all a lot of stuff for him."

Spurrier indicated earlier this week that there's a good chance both quarterbacks might play, but yesterday he said, "We don't go into any game thinking that's going to happen. We try to stay flexible once the game starts. The starter will have an opportunity to go the distance."

Taking the emergency No.3 role will be Shane Matthews, the starter in Weeks 1-3. Matthews, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 1 and the conference's current No.7 passer with an 84.4 rating, was benched despite impressing teammates with fairly solid play and his ability to avoid sacks and take hits.

Injury update

Tight end Zeron Flemister will remain the starter even though veteran Walter Rasby has rebounded well from the sprained knee he suffered late in the preseason. Rasby should play, though.

"I'm going to be his relief pitcher," Rasby said with a laugh. "But I don't have a problem with that at all. I feel like when I'm ready to step into that role, I'll be given an opportunity to do that."

Offensive tackle Chris Samuels (thigh) and cornerback Fred Smoot (back) both returned to practice after missing much or all of Thursday's workout. Both expect to start tomorrow. Samuels seemed to make especially good progress, saying, "I don't think [Ill be limited] at all. I think I'll be 100 percent."

Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson (wrist) did not participate in the contact portions of practice. He continues experimenting with different casts to find one that doesn't limit him too much or cause him excessive pain. He expects to start despite acknowledging that there's ligament and muscle damage to his hand.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce (ankle) will be ready to play if necessary. Offensive lineman Kipp Vickers (knee) probably won't play but said, "There's always a chance."

Not so special teams

Washington's shoddy play the past two games has been blamed on the offense and defense, but the special teams also are struggling. The Redskins rank 28th covering punts (surrendering a 13.8-yard average return) and give opponents the third-best field position after kickoffs (averaging at the 31.9-yard line).

Special teams coach Mike Stock, whose kickoff coverage was the NFL's best last year, said there are a variety of reasons for the problems. But the biggest was the decision not to re-sign Michael Bates, a five-time Pro Bowl special teamer who led the Redskins with a career-high 24 tackles last year.

The loss of speedy Kato Serwanga to a season-ending knee injury in July exacerbated Bates' absence. With David Terrell focusing on his starting free safety duties, Bates and Serwanga have, in effect, been replaced as the flyers the wings on the punt coverage team by rookies Rashad Bauman and Andre Lott.

"We miss Michael and Kato a lot," Stock said. "The rookies are showing some flashes, but we're still trying to get them schooled."

On kickoffs, Washington is limiting opponents to a 19.9-yard average return, which isn't bad, but a number of short kicks, especially by Brett Conway and Wuerffel in the opener, helped lead to poor overall field position.

Done learning?

The results of an open date studying Marvin Lewis' defense should be on display tomorrow. After the Sept.22 loss at San Francisco, many Redskins defenders spoke of the scheme's complexity and admitted not being up to speed. The open date gave them two weeks to study and left them with no excuses if problems continue tomorrow.

"I feel like all that is out of the way," veteran safety Sam Shade said. "Everybody should know the scheme, should feel pretty confident in it. Not saying we're going to go out and play a perfect game on defense, have no mental errors and no assignment errors. That's not going to happen. But you want to limit that stuff."

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