- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

SAN DIEGO Washington coach Marty Schottenheimer isn't a man who believes in pulling punches. Schottenheimer says what he thinks. So when he maintained all summer that Jeff George was the Redskins' quarterback, no if ands or buts, the coach was believed.

But yesterday with 5:33 to go in the third quarter of Washington's embarassing 30-3 season-opening loss to the San Diego Chargers, Schottenheimer benched Jeff George and inserted Tony Banks, who has been a Redskin less than a month.

"We were down 20-0 and I made a judgment based on what I thought would give us an opportunity to win," Schottenheimer said. "We had [just] three first downs. It wasn't all Jeff's fault."

Schottenheimer said that he hasn't made a decision about who'll start Sunday's home opener against NFC East rival Arizona, but team sources said the coach is leaning toward George pending a meeting with the 12-year veteran back at Redskin Park.

Despite owning perhaps the best arm in the business, George the top pick in the 1990 draft has bounced from Indianapolis to Atlanta to Oakland to Minnesota to Washington because he has been seen as a malcontent and not much of a leader. He did nothing to change that image yesterday. George declined comment after completing just eight of 18 passes for 66 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles against the Chargers.

Still, the Redskins didn't expect their starter to be yanked.

"I was completely shocked," receiver Michael Westbrook said. "You want your quarterback to do well, but you also want [Banks] to come in and do a good job because we needed a play to be made. But we still couldn't get anything going."

The Redskins had four turnovers while generating just 161 yards, eight first downs and Brett Conway's 40-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.

Westbrook took responsibility for running a poor route on George's first interception which Chargers cornerback Ryan McNeil picked off in traffic at the San Diego 41 with 1:47 left in the first quarter. On the other interception, Chargers cornerback Alex Molden outfought Westbrook for the ball in the end zone with 6:01 to go in the second quarter. Both of George's fumbles came on bad exchanges with center Cory Raymer.

Banks wasn't much better, connecting on seven of 14 passes for 53 yards, but the offense did function better with him in there (five first downs, 70 yards in four series) if you discount the snap that Raymer bounced in his general direction and was recovered by San Diego's John Parella.

"Nothing surprises me when it comes to the quarterback position," said Banks, who came to Washington on Aug. 16 shortly after being cut by Dallas, where he was slated to be the starter. "I got the surprise of my life a couple of weeks ago. If I get the opportunity to play, I've got to do it to the best of my abilities."

Banks is just 25-36 (.410) as a starter. Only one active quarterback with more than 50 career starts has been less successful George 46-77 (.374). Some Hobson's choice, huh?

Brandt's rough debut

An injured right MCL wasn't the only disappointment rookie right guard David Brandt experienced. The undrafted player out of Michigan also was whistled for consecutive penalties in a first half that saw the Redskins gain just 64 yards and three first downs.

Brandt's penalties came early in the second quarter. The first was a hold on second-and-10 that was declined by San Diego. The second was a false start on the following play. Chargers linebacker Junior Seau got up on the line of scrimmage on that one, preparing to blitz, and Brandt couldn't sit still.

After being injured, Brandt spent most of the second half by himself on one of the Redskins' benches. He was in no mood to talk after the game. Asked how he felt about his performance, he replied, "Hard to say without watching the tape," and walked away.

Meanwhile, reserve Ben Coleman seemed solid while filling in for Brandt. The ninth-year veteran was expected to win a starting job but missed much of training camp with a swollen right knee. He then struggled during limited preseason action at both tackle and guard.

Coleman couldn't say when he will return to full strength but indicated that he expects to have the starting job when he does.

"If Ben Coleman is healthy and ready to go, there is no competition," Coleman said. "But until he gets to that point, there's going to be a question of whether he's the starting right guard. It's not a matter of competition. I never competed."

Punts a problem

The Redskins' rough play on punt coverage helped set up several Chargers scores and, of course, it led directly to Tim Dwight's 84-yard touchdown return on the game's eighth play.

Several players were out of position on Dwight's return. The primary culprit was rookie linebacker Donny Green, though veteran gunner Michael Bates got caught too far inside and rookie safety Ifeanyi Ohalete absorbed a crushing block from Chargers linebacker Sam Rogers that kept him from threatening to tackle Dwight.

Also a problem on the play was the punt's position it was expected to be to the right, but it ended up in the middle of the field. Overall punter Bryan Barker had a rough day, with his seven kicks averaging just 41.1 yards and three going 33 yards or less. One special teams player said that the swirling wind at Qualcomm Stadium might have affected Barker.

Smith seething

Defensive end Bruce Smith was enraged about the play of Chargers tight end Freddie Jones, who he believed was trying to goad him into a fight with illegal blocks. On one particular second-quarter play, Smith said, Jones clipped him about 20 yards upfield.

"I wanted to kick his [butt], but he ran away," Smith said. "I don't think it would have been a fair exchange. I would have been fined [if I had retaliated], and suspended a game. I don't think he's worth that."

Adding insult to injury, Smith said, was the reaction of referee Jim Sprenger to his complaints.

"The referee tells me, after the play is over, 'You play football, I'll referee. And if you get hurt, you get hurt,' " Smith said. "That's a quote."

Sprenger was part of the replacement crew as the NFL's regular officials continue to negotiate a new pay scale. Several Redskins besides Smith thought calls were blown.

"I can't speak for the other officials, the referees, for the games in other cities," Smith said. "I'm just speaking for the two or three today and had some calls to make today and didn't make them. I can't stereotype all of them."

Smoot shines

Cornerback Fred Smoot grabbed an interception and recovered a fumble in his rookie debut. A late preseason choice to start over Darrell Green, Smoot was beaten on an early 17-yard pass, but gaining two turnovers made it a good start.

"It felt good when I got my hands on the ball," Smoot said. "Hopefully, I'll get my hands on another and run it back."

Said safety Sam Shade: "I thought he played well in coverage and the running game."

First down blues

First down wasn't too kind to the Redskins. Washington didn't gain any yards on seven first downs, lost two yards twice, was intercepted twice and drew a penalty

"When you're not able to do anything on first downs," said quarterback Tony Banks, "every other down is so much harder."

The Redskins did gain seven or more yards on five first downs, though three came on meaningless late drives.

Extra points

Safety Martavius Houston, fullback Kenny Watson, linebacker Robert Jones, offensive tackle Ross Tucker, receiver Darnerien McCants, defensive ends Otis Leverette and David Bowens were inactive… .

Green joined returner Michael Bates, offensive tackle Jon Jansen and defensive end Marco Coleman as team captains.

David Elfin, Jody Foldesy and Rick Snider

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