- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

The starting quarterback is out. So are both defensive ends and the receiving tight end. Several starting jobs are unsettled and at least a dozen roster slots remain undecided.

The Washington Redskins open the preseason tonight at the Kansas City Chiefs with many questions. And perhaps the most important revolve around the return timetables for injured quarterback Jeff George, tight end Stephen Alexander and defensive ends Marco Coleman and Bruce Smith. The fact that the Redskins have four marquee players absent before having faced an opponent underscores how brittle the roster is.

The Redskins must show they have depth at key positions. Can quarterback Todd Husak earn the backup job, or will the team begin shopping for a veteran? Will the new West Coast offense survive without its passer, George, and potential lead target, Alexander? Does the defensive line have a pass rush without its ends?

The Redskins return an NFL-low 29 players for coach Marty Schottenheimer's debut season. There are nine new starters from last year's opening lineup, and that's not including the injured quartet. Schottenheimer brought a youth movement to the NFL's oldest team in 2000. However, that means the preseason opener is a test run for several groups.

For Schottenheimer, it's simply a relief to finally have a game after signing on more than eight months ago. He finds it "ironic" to start against his old team, but he considers the regular-season opener at San Diego much more meaningful.

"I'm looking forward to this from the standpoint that our football team gets a chance to finally play football," he said.

Schottenheimer wants to see how his special teams perform. A newfound emphasis has special teams work coming in the middle of practices. Kicker Brett Conway's performance will be vital for a team whose playoff hopes sank last year when it lost three games on failed late kicks. Special teams will decide a number of backup spots and will show coaches which reserves to concentrate on for the rest of camp.

"Most importantly, how will the young guys stand up to the pressure of an NFL game?" Schottenheimer said. "You have certain players you've watched through the offseason and think this guy has a chance to be a player, but until you actually see him do it live in a game, you're not sure. And when you see it once, you think, 'Hey, we're headed in the right direction, and this kid has a chance to help us.' "

Starters will play about 10-12 snaps, which should cover the first quarter. Husak gets the first half, and fourth-rounder Sage Rosenfels will play the second half. If Husak plays well while George recovers, he should retain the backup job. Otherwise, the team will consider signing a veteran.

"I want to see him go up and down the field and put the ball in the end zone like any other quarterback," Schottenheimer said.

This is also the debut of receiver Rod Gardner, the team's first-round pick, and cornerback Fred Smoot, a second-rounder. Neither will start, but with good preseason efforts both could join the first unit in coming weeks. With impressive practices, the pair has overcome delayed starts following their holdouts.

"I don't have any sense they haven't caught up," Schottenheimer said. "Fred, in particular, is very instinctive."

Neither team will reveal much of its playbook. First games are meant to develop timing, and neither will show more than a basic scheme with a regular-season meeting scheduled Sept. 30.

"Preseason games are pretty vanilla anyway, especially the first one," Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said. "You want to give the kids an opportunity to play, not play and think a lot. We'll be more vanilla than normal, but not because we're playing them again."

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