- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

The Washington Redskins' offensive linemen spent the preseason swearing that things weren't as bad as they looked. Not until everyone was healthy, the starters were determined and the regular-season games began could the unit be judged, they said.
By those rules, Sunday is time to find out where things really are.
The line was the Redskins' most glaring concern during a preseason that saw Washington outscored a combined 75-23 in the first half. In last week's finale at New England, quarterback Jeff George was sacked three times, fumbling twice, and feature running back Stephen Davis netted just one yard on three carries.
Much of that performance could be attributed to the Patriots' blitzing 3-4 scheme, for which Washington did not prepare. The Redskins were more concerned with readying themselves for Sunday's regular-season opener at San Diego. But the problem wasn't so much the play that night it was how that night resembled most of the preseason.
"Every once in a while you see a glimmer of hope, even with the terrible performance we put on in New England," center Cory Raymer said yesterday. "Watching film, there were a lot of glimmers of hope that we saw and a lot of good things that were done."
Now the glimmers and good things must be strung together. The line is healthy, with left tackle Chris Samuels returning from a back injury. Its starters are set, with rookie right guard David Brandt and veteran left guard Dave Szott replacing departed Tre Johnson and Keith Sims. And the real games are starting.
"I would tell people not to worry," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "We're going to be out there, we're going to play hard. That's just the way things are going to be this year: We're going to be a hard-working group, and when the end of the day comes we'll have the job done."
The return of Samuels is expected to play a key role. He excelled as a rookie after being the 2000 draft's third overall selection, shutting down some of the NFL's top right ends usually the premier pass-rushers.
But Samuels' preseason was spotty. Playing at his preferred 300 pounds after weighing 330 last season, Samuels surrendered a sack to Kansas City's Duane Clemons in the opener and then wrenched his back in the second game and did not return to practice until this week.
"We really didn't play well [in the preseason], but it's a different approach going into the regular season," Samuels said. "Now we've pretty much learned everything and we've game-planned this team. We know what we want to do and we're going to do it."
Samuels will face defensive end Raylee Johnson, a veteran with speed and power who posted 10? sacks in 1999. Johnson is ready to reassert himself after tearing an ACL in the 2000 preseason and missing the Chargers' entire 1-15 season.
Jansen is luckier, because San Diego's other standout end, Marcellus Wiley, has a stress fracture in his foot. Wiley, perhaps the top free agent acquisition in a busy offseason for the Chargers, is expected to miss three or four weeks.
San Diego's defense is known for creatively using its linebackers, especially weakside star Junior Seau, and its stiff run defense. It is with the latter that Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer is particularly impressed with, namely defensive tackles John Parrella (seven sacks in 2000) and Jamal Williams.
And it is up the middle where Washington has its biggest questions. Szott, a 12th-year veteran, generally has been solid but only signed Aug. 20, while Brandt started just the preseason finale after winning the job over veteran Ben Coleman, who missed much of the preseason with swollen knees.
The biggest challenge for Brandt, Jansen said, is to know his blocking responsibility on each play. In college, a lineman can get away with mental mistakes because defenders might rush the wrong gap or simply not execute. In the pros, those errors rarely occur.
Jansen, however, has no worries about Brandt, a former Michigan teammate and close friend.
"He's confident, he's ready to go and he's prepared himself to be successful this year," Jansen said.
It is with that type of assuredness that the line views its opener.
"We're going to be much improved, because we're finally working together as a group," Szott said. "Chris is back. The more reps the group gets the better you're going to get to know each other. I'm completely confident in what this group will do [Sunday] and the success we'll have this year."


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