- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington is expected to play Sunday against the Denver Broncos, just two weeks after suffering a severe high ankle sprain, but tight end Stephen Alexander appears likely to miss a fourth straight game with a similar injury.
Status of the two players for Sunday became clearer during yesterday's practice. Arrington participated in full drills while Alexander sat out.
Neither player's status officially changed from questionable, but coach Marty Schottenheimer acknowledged that Arrington had made considerable progress, calling the strongside starter "a high percentage of questionable."
Arrington, for his part, couldn't contain a smile while trying to act as though he wouldn't play. Eventually Arrington, who missed one game this year because of a partially torn MCL and half of a game with a concussion, said, "I don't even know why you guys are asking. You should know."
As for Alexander, Schottenheimer said the Pro Bowl tight end did not endure any type of setback, even though Alexander seemed confident last week that he would heal in time for this game.
"I just don't think he's ready," Schottenheimer said. "It's not fluid and natural. It's been awhile since he's done a lot."
Offensive tackle Chris Samuels and linebacker Eddie Mason missed practice with the flu. Both are expected back today and Schottenheimer is not concerned that either will miss Sunday's game.

Punt coverage key
The Redskins' punt coverage gets one of its biggest tests Sunday against the Broncos' Deltha O'Neal, the AFC's top returner with a 14.9-yard average.
Punt coverage was the key area of special teams that Schottenheimer evaluated during last week's open date. The Redskins have improved since yielding an 84-yard touchdown to San Diego's Tim Dwight in the opener, but they still have surrendered a return of at least 17 yards in each of the past four games.
The evaluation didn't result in sweeping changes. Instead, there was a refocusing on fundamentals, like protecting against blocked punts and "spreading the net" getting into and staying in coverage lanes.
"The things we worked on were pretty much what we've been doing," said safety Sam Shade, a member of the first-string unit. "We didn't change anything. I guess we just went back to basics a little bit."
The Redskins attributed O'Neal's success, which includes an 86-yard touchdown at Seattle in Week 5, to his quickness and decision-making, as well as solid blocking. Overall, the Broncos have some of the NFL's best special teams players, with kick returner Chris Cole, punter Tom Rouen and kicker Jason Elam.
"[ONeal has] been getting a lot of room catching the ball and he makes things happen," Washington's Michael Bates said. "He's a quick guy, and he gets into his running form fast. But if we get guys around him, we won't have any problem getting him down."

Featured matchup
It remains unclear whether Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey will be locked up full-time against Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, the NFL's leader in receptions (72) and yards (923).
Bailey has played his best this season the two times he was locked on one wideout, limiting Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad to two catches and Seattle's Darrell Jackson to no catches (though Jackson did have a 46-yard touchdown against zone coverage). More frequently the Redskins have kept their corners on fixed sides of the field.
A one-on-one scheme can confuse the responsibilities of defenders other than Bailey, but using the tactic in this game appears to be a no-brainer. The Broncos don't have another wide receiver threat now after Eddie Kennison was officially cut; Scottie Montgomery (three catches this season) is one of Denver's few healthy wideouts after Smith, who is nursing a sprained ankle.
Bailey certainly wants the challenge: "I always want to be locked up on the best guy."

Thanksgiving gifts
Some Redskins players and their wives will be assembling 100 Thanksgiving gift baskets today to give to area families in need. The baskets will be delivered in the afternoon so that each family can prepare a complete holiday dinner. The Faith Foundation, led by linebacker Eddie Mason and his wife, Sonya, also will serve Thanksgiving dinner to homeless children and families Tuesday at St. Joseph's Church and School in Herndon.


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