- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

OSAKA, Japan There's a quarterback competition, an offense to implement and a new coach to christen. However, the Washington Redskins open the preseason tonight offering only a glimpse of what Steve Spurrier is being paid $25million to rebuild.

Against the San Francisco 49ers in the American Bowl before an expected 35,000 at the Osaka Dome, the Redskins are three-point favorites as Spurrier begins his attempt to resurrect the Redskins as he did Florida during his 12 years in Gainesville.

Since Spurrier replaced coach Marty Schottenheimer in January, the Redskins' anemic offense has been the focus. While the 10th-ranked defense seems improved because of free agent acquisitions and the special teams have remained steady, the Redskins' hopes for their first winning season since 1999 depends on an offense that spent much of last year ranked last overall.

Spurrier became known as an offensive genius for his Run 'N' Gun system, which often left college defenses off-balance. Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis came to the Redskins after Tampa Bay's late change of heart cost him the Buccaneers' head job in January.

The pair are known for being among the best. Now they have to prove it in Washington, where three defensive coordinators and four coaches have departed since owner Dan Snyder arrived in 1999. Adjusting to the Redskins' new staff has San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci anxious.

"It's been different preparing for this game because we're looking at Florida's offense. Sometimes I think Rex Grossman is going to play quarterback," Mariucci said. "Then you're looking at Baltimore's defense. It's crazy. Just go play."

The teams meet again Sept.22 at San Francisco in the third regular-season game, so neither coach wants to show much. Mariucci said he would use a basic approach, but Spurrier dismissed talk that the Redskins would hold back.

"We're not going to line up in the I-formation, toss it right and run it up the middle" he said. "We're going to give our players a chance to make some plays."

Certainly, it's quarterback Sage Rosenfels' chance to lead in the current three-way competition that will expand to four whenever rookie Patrick Ramsey signs. Rosenfels is the only holdover passer from last year. A strong first-half effort tonight before he gives way to Danny Wuerffel might at least mean Rosenfels makes the team as a reserve. A bad showing ultimately could cost him a job.

"I'm not looking at this as my make-or-break opportunity," Rosenfels said. "If things don't work out perfectly, there's a lot of other preseason games left."

But Rosenfels might work with the starting offense for only a couple of series. Even then the offensive line could be a patchwork if left tackle Chris Samuels doesn't return from illness. The Redskins also are sorting through guards. The constant shuffling is among the reasons why the offense sometimes struggled during training camp.

"Finally, we're going to showcase some things we do," Rosenfels said. "We've been practicing against our defense for the last four or five months. They know a lot of the things we do, and it makes it more difficult to compete against them. We'll look better than we probably do in practice."

Said cornerback Champ Bailey: "I'm looking forward to see what they can do on the field. They've looked good [during practice] at times."

But only Rosenfels and receivers might remain after the opening minutes, preventing a solid assessment of the offense.

"We'll see how other teams react to our offense, but we won't get a really good look until we play three quarters as a first unit," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said.

Translation: The final preseason game against New England on Aug.25 may be a more definitive test.

Still, the Redskins are trying to avoid another losing preseason. Last year, Schottenheimer dismissed the 1-3 preseason record, but it was followed by an 0-5 regular-season start.

"If you go through the preseason losing, sometimes you just can't turn the switch on," tight end Walter Rasby said.

Spurrier often has spoke of winning the game, although he plans to empty the bench to analyze his reserves. While calling it an "exhibition," Spurrier isn't dismissive of his debut.

"Every game has a special interest that I've coached in my life," he said. "Some people say it's like one of those all-star games in college like the Hula Bowl. I think it's lot more important than those."

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