- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

It's a good thing Barry Sanders said again recently he has no plans to return to football. Now we don't have to read stories about Dan Snyder trying to trade for him to play center.
The Redskins lost a center Monday when Cory Raymer went down with partially torn knee ligaments. With all of the stars and big names on the team, I'll bet some people didn't even know who Cory Raymer was. They do now.
This qualifies as the first mini-crisis for the team with a manifest destiny to go to the Super Bowl. It's a mini-crisis because, unlike nearly every other position on the team, the Redskins don't have two Pro Bowl players as backups.
It will be mid-level crisis if Mark Fischer can't step up and fill in for Raymer, who will miss at least six weeks.
Don't tell Fischer that, though. The third-year center, who has never taken an offensive snap in a regular season NFL game, doesn't play very well in a crisis mode. "I'm trying just to stay calm," he said. "I play better when I'm calm. I've got myself under control now. A few years ago it would have been different."
If this sounds familiar, it's because Fischer was saying the same things before January's playoff game against Tampa Bay, when it appeared Raymer might not play because of injuries. "I'm an excitable guy, but I'm trying to stay calm," Fischer said before that game. Raymer wound up making his 37th straight start and Fischer wound up seeing his only action of the season on special teams, a good place for excitable guys.
If Fischer thinks he is an excitable guy, he might want to look at the owner's box if he fouls up a snap or two in the opener Sept. 3 against Carolina.
Fischer, 26, could make the most of his chance. He was selected in the fifth round in the 1998 draft out of Purdue and showed his toughness by coming back from a broken fibula. He has shown enough promise to the Redskins coaching staff to stick here while others have come and gone including the general manager who selected him, Charley Casserly. All Fischer may need is experience, and he will get some by starting Saturday's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
This could have been a major crisis because the Redskins will already be without Pro Bowl guard Tre Johnson, who is suspended for one game for hitting an official during a playoff game last season. Guard Jay Leeuwenburg, who is now the backup center, will replace Johnson for the opening game.
Losing two starters on the offensive line, even for just one game, could have qualified as a major crisis because this team can't afford to lose early. The expectations are far too great to survive a slow start without blood being spilled.
And despite all the flash and cash at the skill positions, it's money down the drain without a strong offensive line. A good line can make mediocre skill players look good. A weakened line can make good skill players look mediocre.
But it's not a major crisis because the Redskins open up against the Carolina Panthers, and by the time the opener at FedEx Field comes around, the Panthers may not have anyone left to dress.
Since training camp opened, rookie Deon Grant, working toward a starting job at free safety and punt returner, fractured his left hip; receiver Patrick Jeffers tore a knee ligament and is out for the season; backup safety Tony Booth re-injured his left knee and is also out for the year; and kicker John Kasay, coming back from reconstructive knee surgery, broke his left kneecap in practice. And this is a team still reeling from former wide receiver Rae Carruth's murder charges.
Carolina owner Jerry Richardson said he is not an excitable guy for now. "I don't think expectations should change," he told reporters. "I think the fact that we have some players injured is going to make things possibly more difficult. But I don't view it as a lowering of expectations, and I surely hope none of our coaches and players feel that way."
Richardson was an excitable guy during the offseason. That's why he spent money to bring Eric Swann and Reggie White to Carolina. And while it's far from ideal for the Redskins to match up against the Panthers defense with a makeshift offensive line, under the category of crisis management the Panthers have much more to deal with than the Redskins.
But whether the Redskins' minor crisis blows up into a major one will depend in large part on Mark Fischer.
Don't get too excited, Mark.

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