- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

Running back Stephen Davis, the linchpin of Washington’s 1999 NFC East champions, remains on Carolina’s physically unable to perform list, but the Redskins still had a reunion with an old friend when they opened preseason last night against the Panthers.

And it didn’t go well.

Gardner, traded to the Panthers in July for a sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft, started for Carolina and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

Redskins receiver Taylor Jacobs predicted Gardner would want to show off against his old team, something that concerned secondary coach DeWayne Walker, who was minus four of his top six cornerbacks — Shawn Springs, Artrell Hawkins, Carlos Rogers and Garnell Wilds — because of injuries. Wilds was a late scratch because of an injured thigh.

“Rod’s going to want to do a little damage,” Walker said. “Our No.1 priority is making sure this isn’t a big homecoming for him.”

Gardner said he was excited to face the Redskins.

“It’s always big when you play your old team,” Gardner said before the game. “I want to go out and perform and do [well] for all my old D.C. fans. It’s going to be good to go out and compete against those boys back there in the secondary. I have no problems with the Redskins. When I asked for a trade, they worked with that. I was very glad to come down here to Carolina.”

Gardner was a regular in all four of his Washington seasons, catching 227 passes to rank eighth all time among Redskins wideouts. However, Gardner was unhappy after catching 51 passes (compared to 90 for Laveranues Coles) last season under new coach Joe Gibbs and asked to be traded in January.

“There were points where I felt … they would count on me, then the next week it was like they forgot about me,” Gardner said. “I didn’t know what they wanted from me. So I just felt it was time to leave and … start over fresh.”

Expected to be Carolina’s third receiver after missing the entire offseason program, the 27-year-old Clemson product was elevated into the lineup because Keary Colbert was hurt.

“I’m just going full speed, trying to pick up as much as I can, trying to get better,” Gardner said about learning the Panthers’ system. “When you can go out there and just play freely, it’s easier compared to thinking about what you’re trying to do.”

Dyson back, Hawkins isn’t

Receiver Kevin Dyson, trying to make a comeback with the Redskins after being out of the NFL in 2004, returned to Carolina for the first time since he wasn’t re-signed following the 2003 season.

After joining Carolina in March 2003, Dyson hurt an Achilles tendon that summer and played in just one regular-season game before seeing limited action during the Panthers’ surprising run to the Super Bowl.

“It will be good to play again regardless, but it’s especially good that it’s against my ex-teammates,” Dyson said. “The Panthers didn’t do anything to me. I signed a one-year deal and [receivers] Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad had great years, so they let me go.”

While Dyson was looking forward to his return to Charlotte, Hawkins, who played for the Panthers in 2004, didn’t make the trip because of a hamstring injury he suffered Aug.2 in practice.

“It hurts me that I can’t play,” said Hawkins, who couldn’t bend over the first couple of days after the injury. “It’s a game that would be real fun because I know a lot of those guys. I really haven’t had problems with my hamstring before, but I tweaked it a little before camp, and then I was chasing [receiver] David Patten on a post [pattern], and I hurt it again.”

Hawkins is aiming to be back in time for a reunion Friday against Cincinnati, for whom he played from 1998 to 2003.

Mills honored

The Panthers retired the late Sam Mills’ No.51 jersey at halftime. Mills started at linebacker during Carolina’s first three seasons (1995-1997), then became a scout before coaching the linebackers the past six years. Mills died of intestinal cancer in April.

Preseason no harbinger

Gibbs had just three losing records in his previous 13 preseasons as Redskins coach. Strangely, after going a combined 2-11 in the preseasons of 1982, 1991 and 1992, the Redskins were a spectacular 39-11 (.780) during those seasons and postseasons. Washington’s combined regular season and postseason record after nonlosing preseasons under Gibbs is 107-64 (.626). Gibbs was just 6-7 in preseason openers before last night.

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