- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

Washington Redskins quarterback Jeff George played in the team's third exhibition game Friday night after coach Marty Schottenheimer said the chances were 50 percent. Now defensive end Bruce Smith is getting a similar prediction.

"It's no better than 50-50" that Smith, who is suffering from a bruised shoulder, will be available for Thursday's preseason finale at New England, Schottenheimer said yesterday.

The coach's comments came on a conference call the day after a 27-25 victory against the Cleveland Browns. Schottenheimer hopes to see the Redskins (1-2) finally healthy this week after key players missed each preseason game. More importantly he hopes everyone will be back Sept. 9, when the teams begins the regular season at San Diego.

"We need to get our players who are nicked up an opportunity to work," Schottenheimer said. "They need to get in position where, when we are preparing for San Diego, we are a healthy football team. Good health is key in this [league]."

Among other injured starters, Schottenheimer expects running back Stephen Davis (sprained toes) to return this week but was unable to make a prediction for left tackle Chris Samuels (strained rib muscle).

Smith, the NFL's No. 2 all-time sack leader and a 17-year veteran, has been sidelined since the second week of training camp. He has had several rounds of tests, hopes to return to limited action in the preseason finale and expects to be at full speed for the opener.

George made his debut Friday after a week of testing the tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. However, his performance left much to be desired. He completed just three of seven passes for 17 yards in four series of work. George played about a quarter and Washington gained just one first down, on an 11-yard carry by fullback Donnell Bennett.

Backup quarterback Tony Banks sparkled after being acquired just a week earlier following his release as the Dallas Cowboys' starter. Banks posted a 155.4 quarterback rating against the Browns, completing 12 of 15 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns in about two quarters.

Schottenheimer reiterated yesterday that Banks is not challenging for the job, saying, "Any [quarterback] controversy is outside the organization. There is none in-house."

He did acknowledge, though, how the team appeared to be inspired by Banks' play. The offense went three-and-out on Banks' first two series but drove 72 yards in 42 seconds on his third, trimming a two-touchdown deficit to 14-7. It was only the Redskins' second touchdown of the preseason.

Afterward, players admitted that it was important to do well after being crushed by a combined score of 47-6 in their first two outings.

"This was a must-win," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "I think we really needed this, not only for the morale of the team, but you have to start somewhere. I think as soon as we got that first touchdown, guys really started believing, and I think it was evident in the way we finished up."

Said tight end Stephen Alexander: "The way the offense played tonight was certainly a big relief after the way we sputtered the first couple of games. Are we there yet? No. We've got some work to do, but we showed that we're on the right track."

George is expected to play the first half Thursday, along with the rest of the starters. The quarterback playing time behind George has not been determined.

The Redskins' first cuts should come in the next day or so, with the roster having to go from 80 players to 65 (plus NFL Europe entries) by Tuesday afternoon. Schottenheimer said quarterback Todd Husak, who started the first two exhibitions, will stay through this round of cuts, but he appears to be in jeopardy behind George, Banks and fourth-round draft pick Sage Rosenfels.

The offensive line remains a chief concern for Washington. It gave up three first-half sacks to the Browns, who were without star right end Courtney Brown.

Schottenheimer's plan is to move Matt Campbell or Dave Szott to right guard and play the other at left guard. Campbell has been filling in for Samuels at left tackle after spending most of camp at left guard; Schottenheimer now believes Ben Coleman can work at left tackle in place of Samuels.

Coleman, who missed most of camp with a sprained knee, seemed to come through his first preseason action fine Friday. Schottenheimer has said Coleman appears more comfortable at tackle, where he started on the left side for San Diego last season, than at guard.

At wide receiver, Schottenheimer played down the fact that rookie Rod Gardner started ahead of Kevin Lockett. "We're just taking different people and rolling them into different roles," the coach said.

A variety of other battles remain at positions like cornerback, middle linebacker, center and fullback, but Schottenheimer does not expect any to be resolved until after Thursday's game. At safety, recent free agent pickup Keith Lyle should see his first action after sitting out Friday.

*Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this report.

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