- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. It was the sweetest touchdown of training camp.

Jeff George fired a 20-yard dart to receiver Michael Westbrook yesterday in his first extensive action since early in training camp, when he was sidelined by shoulder tendinitis.

George didn't declare himself cured of the painful ailment that had limited him to four preseason practices, and his status for Friday's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns is still undecided. It remains to be seen if he awakens today still sore from throwing 59 passes during the morning session.

George put some zip on the ball during a red zone drill that was preceded by soft tosses in seven-on-seven matchups. He didn't feel any sharp pain as he did on Aug. 5, when he returned from a shorter layoff. George limited his velocity a bit yesterday and didn't try any deep passes.

"You can always throw a lot harder," he said. "I just threw naturally. I wasn't throwing the deep ball but 20 to 30 yards, things went well. We're so far ahead of schedule compared to a couple days ago. That's exciting for me."

George might play the first series against the Browns on Friday, but the only start that matters is the regular-season opener at San Diego on Sept. 9. George's absence has proved the Redskins can't afford to lose him they scored only six points in two preseason games with backup passers.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer said George's return was a morale boost to a team that has had an air of gloom since it lost to Kansas City on Aug. 12. Practices have been sloppier over the past nine days even though cooler weather has replaced the extreme heat of the early days of camp.

"You need an experienced quarterback. He brings hope," Schottenheimer said. "When you have a quarterback who's lined up and done it before you can get into bad situations and have a sense we'll get it done. When you're dealing with a young inexperienced player that hope is really not there because there's no history to fall back on."

George was relieved to finally practice after mostly standing around during the daily workouts. Schottenheimer wants George to be a team leader, but it's tough to lead from the rear.

"I want to be out there," George said. "When something like this happens it's frustrating. If I were younger it would be tougher, but since I'm older I understand the game a little more and I can deal with it better."

Not that George was automatic on his throws. There were misses in all forms, but plenty of crisp short completions.

"Obviously, you're going to be rusty at times, but I felt as long as I stayed on top of things mentally I was going to be OK," he said. "I missed a few throws I wouldn't normally have. In this offense, there's not a lot of timing routes. It's all mental."

George is being cautious to avoid another setback. He even was held out of the afternoon practice to avoid overdoing his first day back. George said whether he plays against the Browns is up to the coaches.

"I'm not lobbying to do anything. If I'm ready, I should play," he said. "We have two weeks left in the preseason and we're gearing for the opener. I'll just tell them how I feel and go from there."

Schottenheimer won't decide George's status for Friday's game against the Browns until that morning. If George doesn't play, Sage Rosenfels probably will spend the first half with the starters. If George does start, Tony Banks may appear in the second quarter with Rosenfels playing the second half with reserves.

With the release of No. 5 quarterback Mike Watkins yesterday, backup Todd Husak now appears to be the Redskins' most vulnerable signal-caller as the Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 roster cutdowns draw near. Husak, drafted out of Stanford last year, doesn't yet have a defined role for the Browns game. Banks could take the backup job from Husak with a strong showing on Friday.

Iowa State product Rosenfels, drafted in the fourth round by Schottenheimer this year, is locked into the No. 3 spot despite an inconsistent preseason.

Banks will work from a limited playbook against Cleveland.

"There's a lot of volume to it and [Banks is] making a lot of progress," Schottenheimer said. "We have a package for him."

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