- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Five of six.
That's the impressive rate of scoring drives by Washington Redskins quarterback Danny Wuerffel this preseason. He produced points on one of two possessions in Saturday's 37-30 win at Carolina and seemed to hold onto the lead in the three-way race to start the regular-season opener Sept.8 against the Arizona Cardinals.
"I feel pretty good," Wuerffel said after the game. "You always want to score every time you get the ball. We got held up that one time doing that. But you always try to do the right play each time, put enough of them together and everybody's happy."
Wuerffel hit eight of 11 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers as he helped Washington regain an edge its backup defense blew in the second half. The Redskins led 20-10 at halftime thanks to quarterback Shane Matthews and extended the lead to 13 points in the third quarter before Carolina rallied.
In two games Wuerffel is 24-for-36 for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Coach Steve Spurrier isn't ready to name a starter yet not even for Sunday's third preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but Wuerffel's case clearly is growing. The only thing the coach said definitively was that rookie Patrick Ramsey wouldn't start Sunday.
"Danny played well," Spurrier said. "I mean, he can run out of the pocket. Those two runs [for first downs] were nice."
Wuerffel actually had three conversion runs, but the third, a 14-yarder on third-and-7, was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on rookie tackle Reggie Coleman. Wuerffel then threw incomplete on third-and-12, forcing the Redskins to punt under his guidance for the first time this preseason.
Perhaps Wuerffel's sharpness in the second half of two games resonates because neither quarterback who has started, Sage Rosenfels or Matthews, stood out against a first-string defense.
On Saturday Matthews came up with three points in an opening 18-play drive but threw a third-and-10 interception on the Panthers' starters' other series. He was 7-for-13 for 65 yards against the top unit; a week earlier, in a 38-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Osaka, Japan, Rosenfels was 2-for-8 for 22 yards with a pick.
Those struggles likely explain Spurrier's dissatisfaction with his offense.
"It's way off, way off right now," he said. "But it's not too bad. We've scored, somehow or another, 30 [against Carolina; the final touchdown came from the defense] and 38. And that [defensive] touchdown was our first turnover of the season. So we've started pretty well back most of the time. But anyway, we're doing OK. Hopefully we can do better."
The most promising part of Wuerffel's play at Carolina was the game situation. While he beat up on the increasingly downtrodden 49ers a week earlier, on Saturday he took over with the game tied 23-23. By his second series the Redskins trailed by a touchdown, but he drove 79 yards in just 2:42 to tie the game again.
"It was a different type of test for us," Wuerffel said. "They did some different things [in terms of disguising their coverages]. And their offense did well that puts the pressure on you. They have the ball longer, and you have less plays."
Wuerffel's timing in this offense is outstanding so sharp that he nearly completed a throw from his rear end. Stumbling as he took one snap, Wuerffel chucked the ball to a spot on the left sideline where Derrius Thompson nearly caught it. The play was reminiscent of Wuerffel's Heisman Trophy-winning days at Florida, when he seemed to know where every potential target was at all times.
However, Wuerffel's wizardry eventually won't be enough to overcome an anemic run game. The Redskins rushed a bit better against the Panthers (80 yards, 3.6 average) than they did against the 49ers (45 yards, 2.1 average), but starter Stephen Davis picked up just 15 yards on seven carries.
Mastering blocking assignments will be a focus this week, especially because Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels is expected to miss several weeks with a sprained ankle. The Redskins' guards have held up in pass-blocking despite the position's uncertainty, but the interior run-blocking remains weak.
"That's young guys, first time they ever played in this offense," Spurrier said. "If they're still on the team, hopefully they'll learn what to do."
Otherwise, the offense is getting good production from reserve receivers, especially Thompson (eight catches in two games, 178 yards, two touchdowns) and Chris Doering (nine catches, 137 yards). Reidel Anthony overcame a subpar opener with two touchdowns against Carolina.
But the test Sunday will be for the starters. While Wuerffel has been 5-for-6 in possessions so far with four touchdowns and a field goal, Washington's starters are 1-for-4 with just three points.
"We made some mistakes," Samuels said. "We've got to go back and look at the film and correct those mistakes. But overall, the performance was pretty good."


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