- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

The oxymoronic term "significant preseason game" seems apt once again as the Washington Redskins play their third exhibition tonight under coach Steve Spurrier.
The Redskins play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers, an expected Super Bowl contender following a 13-3 record in 2001 and a narrow loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. The Steelers boasted the NFL's third-ranked offense and top defense a year ago, and many Redskins players believe this game will be an important gauge.
"This is a huge test for us," said quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who gets his first start of the preseason. "They're a great team across the board. Especially for us on offense, it will be a great test to go against one of the best."
Spurrier's offense remains one of the NFL's hot topics as the training camp portion of the preseason concludes. One of the college game's best attacks, the Fun 'n' Gun tonight will get its most telling test to date.
Similar intrigue accompanied Washington's first two games. The Redskins opened with a 38-7 thumping of San Francisco in Osaka, Japan; 49ers coach Steve Mariucci offered veiled criticism of Washington's prolific second half by calling it "a different sort of preseason game." The Redskins then outlasted Carolina 37-30 last weekend, showing that the opening spree was no fluke.
Now Washington faces one of the league's top defenses an unusual 3-4 set, no less. The first-string offense is expected to play a fair bit of the second quarter again, as is the Redskins' starting defense.
"This is one of those games you look forward to seeing what you really can do," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "Pittsburgh's got a good defense, but at the same time we've got a good offense. It's going to be exciting to go out there and play."
Also adding excitement are the facts that Spurrier is making his FedEx Field debut and Pittsburgh, coming off a poorly played 16-6 loss to the New York Jets, is expected to give its best effort. However, within this relatively interesting framework is the knowledge that this game ultimately is meaningless.
"It is an exhibition game," Spurrier said. "We're going to come ready to play, play everybody, try to win, but we can't go overboard on these practice games."
Wuerffel, who has just six NFL starts and none since 1999, is the apparent front-runner to start Washington's season opener Sept.8 against Arizona. However, tonight will be the first time he goes against a starting defense after lighting up 49ers and Panthers reserves for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
"I'm excited to play with all the starters and against the starters," said Wuerffel, who played the second half against San Francisco and the fourth quarter at Carolina. "If you want to be the starter, that's what you'll be doing all year."
Wuerffel will play only the first quarter, allowing Sage Rosenfels to work the second quarter and Shane Matthews the second half. After tonight each of Washington's top three passers will have played about four quarters.
Matthews, Chicago's on-and-off starter the past three seasons, appears to be second in the quarterback race. He completed 17 of 27 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at Carolina, staking Washington to a 20-10 halftime lead.
Perhaps more important than the play at quarterback, though, will be the performance of Washington's rushing offense. The Redskins have passed about twice as often as they've run in the first two games, picking up just 3.0 yards per carry. Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis had seven carries for 15 yards last weekend at Carolina.
"One of these times they're going to take away the pass and we're going to have to run," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "And when they do that, I don't think there's a team that can stop us when they put six guys in nickel. Even if we don't block anybody, I think Stephen can run through seven guys."
Washington's shuffled offensive line will be patchwork again tonight. Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels is out at least one more week with a sprained ankle; in his place Rod Jones has moved from left guard to left tackle, while 23-year-old Ross Tucker and journeyman Kipp Vickers will start at the guards.
On defense, Washington expects to be one of the NFL's best units and should get all it can handle tonight. Pittsburgh features Pro Bowl passer Kordell Stewart, Pro Bowl rusher Jerome Bettis and a receiving corps that includes productive Hines Ward, immensely talented Plaxico Burress and dynamic rookie Antwaan Randle El.
"It's going to tell us where we are as far as progressing to be that team that they were last year," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Any kind of challenge, we want to take it on. We want to test ourselves against the Bus [Bettis], Kordell Stewart and Plaxico Burress."
Redskins defensive tackle Daryl Gardener is sidelined with back spasms. Cornerback Darrell Green is questionable with neck soreness, but defensive end Bruce Smith should see limited action, his first of the preseason. On special teams, kicker Brett Conway's status is in doubt because of a hip flexor.

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