- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Washington Redskins practice yesterday was filled with signs that quarterback Jeff George's shoulder finally is healthy.

Tight end Stephen Alexander recalled one play on which George picked a botched snap off the ground and zipped the ball sidearm to wide receiver Kevin Lockett on the wing.

"Hit him right in the chest," Alexander said. "I was just, 'Wow.' It was unbelievable. The old Jeff George was back."

On another play, wide receiver Rod Gardner ran about "50 yards" on a go route and had George's pass sail 10 yards beyond him.

"I couldn't get to it," Gardner said. "I know Jeff's got it back when I see that."

The Redskins certainly hope so. After a preseason in which George struggled in his three quarters of play and the team collectively sputtered in its four games, his performance now stands as one of the biggest keys to Washington's success in Sunday's regular-season opener at San Diego.

George's first action came in Washington's third preseason game, Aug. 24 against the Cleveland Browns, when he hit just three of seven passes for 17 yards. He then played Aug. 30 at New England, where he was 10-for-18 for 126 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But most of that production came at the end of the first half; before that, he was sacked three times, twice fumbling.

The struggles induced speculation that George's injury was more serious than he or the team let on. Some Redskins players acknowledge that the injury likely was more painful than either revealed but that it never appeared truly serious.

"His shoulder was hurt. He was very sore. And nobody wanted to buy into the tendinitis thing," wide receiver Michael Westbrook said with a laugh. "Everybody's like, 'No, it's broken, it's torn.' I'm like, 'If it's torn, he wouldn't be playing. Period.' Now he's throwing the ball downfield very well. His arm is back, and it's strong. He's sore, but that goes along with tendinitis."

George, as one might expect, disagreed that he is "sore." The quarterback believes he basically is full strength, though he feels the key in any case is that he won't be limited Sunday. He was not listed on yesterday's injury report.

"There's not a throw I don't think I can make," George said. "I really do hate talking about it all the time because I really do think I'm 100 percent."

But the injury remains a hot topic, mostly because the Redskins averaged just 143.5 yards passing to their opponents' 272 during the preseason. Players repeatedly offered a lack of "rhythm" as the reason, saying they needed more time to get comfortable with their quarterbacks.

Yesterday, as several receivers said that rhythm finally had been established, George shot down the whole concept.

"You know what? That rhythm's really overrated," George said. "I've been hearing that all week. I've been out. I've just been getting back in shape. The rhythm part you just do what you're told. If I'm asked to throw the ball 60, 70 yards downfield, is there any rhythm to that? I don't think so."

Alexander tended to agree, saying, "He's a veteran guy, and I don't think he needs to go out every day and practice throwing an out route. He knows what to do. It's just a matter of … everybody being on the same page. I don't think you need to grind out there for a month to get that done."

If it wasn't rhythm, there certainly was something missing during the preseason that appears to have been found in practice this week.

"Even the coaches were wondering what was going on [in the preseason] because we were having seven-on-seven periods and only completing half the [passes]," Westbrook said. "We're supposed to be like 90 percent efficient on that. But now everybody's healthy, everybody's here, and we're completing like 95 percent now. Yesterday, today we're completing everything. That's what it's supposed to look like in practice. And now everybody's a little less worried."

Indeed, confidence seems to be building on the offense, up to where it should be for a regular-season opener. And even if George hasn't had enough time …

"We have no choice," coach Marty Schottenheimer said with a laugh. "He's our quarterback. So he has to stand up and do it."

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