- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

REDSKINS INSIDER

It was appropriate that the Washington Redskins drew a record crowd of more than 28,000 for Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage because the first week of training camp was one for the record books.

Since hitting the field a week ago this morning, the Redskins lost defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Alex Buzbee for the season, traded for a six-time Pro Bowl player at that spot and had free safety LaRon Landry, top draft choice Devin Thomas and fellow rookie receiver Malcolm Kelly all go down with bad hamstrings. Right defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery broke a hand, while defensive end Chris Wilson and linebacker Matt Sinclair - two of the emerging backups on defense - were also injured.

That’s the usual quota of camp news for a couple of weeks, if not a month. And other than the acquisition of Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins, the only good news in all of this for neophyte coach Jim Zorn is that only Thomas and Montgomery aren’t expected to be back for next Sunday’s preseason opener against the always powerful Indianapolis Colts.

If Saturday’s turnout is any indication of the expectations in these parts, Redskins fans believe this 2007 wild-card team will finish 2008 in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla. The Redskins compete in a division that includes the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. the Dallas Cowboys - the NFC’s best team last season - and the conference’s best team this decade, the Philadelphia Eagles. That means that staying out of the NFC East cellar could be an accomplishment for Zorn, especially since his team plays all its division road games in the season’s first five weeks.

After a surprisingly crisp first practice for the offense, which is incorporating a new passing scheme, the defense owned the first week of camp. But as everyone in burgundy and gold acknowledged, that was to be expected. So was the faster tempo of practices under Zorn compared with those of his old-school predecessor, Joe Gibbs.

And no matter how much people want to hear about position battles, there really aren’t any unless a punting competition between so-so incumbent Derrick Frost and sixth-rounder Durant Brooks - Washington’s first draft pick at the position in 15 years - that will be decided during the five preseason games that get fans excited.

That’s what happens when all 22 starters return and the one who’s done (Daniels) was immediately replaced by Taylor. There are also more than a handful of reserves - Todd Collins, Todd Yoder, Stephon Heyer, Ladell Betts, Kedric Golston and Khary Campbell among them - who could spend the next five weeks on autopilot and still make the team.

As for on-field developments in Week 1 of camp, Antwaan Randle El looked sharp, especially considering he had a knee scoped in June. Fellow starting receiver Santana Moss also looked good. Kelly and Thomas each made his share of plays before injuring his hamstring. Right guard Randy Thomas and right tackle Jon Jansen, each of whom missed almost all of 2007 with injuries, returned seamlessly to the starting lineup.

Starting quarterback Jason Campbell has been up and down, but that’s still better than Collins, who hasn’t looked anything like the hero of last December’s dash to the playoffs. And tight end Fred Davis, who overslept the final practice of minicamp, has seemingly had his hands fall asleep on a few occasions.

There hasn’t been as much drama on newly promoted coordinator Greg Blache’s defense that featured just three starters in the scrimmage and then had one - Montgomery - break his right hand. Rookie cornerbacks J.T. Tryon and Matteral Richardson, the latter an undrafted free agent, have been solid. Taylor wasted no time in getting smoothly acclimated to Washington after 11 years in Miami. Weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh has shown no lingering effects from his December knee surgery, and cornerback Carlos Rogers is ahead of schedule as he recovers from a reconstructive knee operation the previous month.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was how seldom the name of slain safety Sean Taylor, the rallying point for last season’s 4-1 finish, was mentioned, showing that even that tragedy can become another moment in Redskins history with enough good news to fill the air at Redskin Park.

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