- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Washington Redskins tight end Robert Royal will miss several weeks with a high ankle sprain that may complicate final roster cuts.

With tight end Walter Rasby expected out another three weeks with a sprained knee, Royal's loss could force the Redskins to keep four tight ends on the roster.

Tight end Zeron Flemister should remain with the team when it trims the roster to 53 players tomorrow, and Leonard Stephens may also make the cut. The Redskins might acquire another tight end to keep two active.

Rasby and Royal could be among Washington's seven weekly inactive players when it opens the regular season against Arizona on Sept. 8. The Redskins weren't expected to keep more than three tight ends, so another player they wanted to keep like a sixth receiver or 10th defensive lineman may be released.

Cornerbacks Chandler Smith and Mark Washington, center Dustin Keith and defensive tackle Donovan Arp, tight end Ivan Mercer and offensive tackle Melvin Paige were released yesterday. The Redskins must cut nine more players.

Arp was a mild surprise. He started camp strong, but the emergence of tackles Carl Powell and Del Cowsette made him expendable. Smith is considered a prospect but was caught at a crowded position.

"I know I have everything in me. I just have to bring it out," Smith said. "I'm a competitive person, so I'm not backing down."

Royal was injured with nearly six minutes remaining in the first half of the 28-14 loss to New England on Thursday. The fifth-round pick caught three passes for 59 yards and one touchdown during the preseason, showing a penchant for making big plays.

The Redskins also lost linebacker Antonio Pierce for several weeks with a high ankle sprain when a New England blocker fell on him during punt coverage. Team officials were awaiting MRI results, but Pierce should return sooner than Royal.

Meanwhile, the Redskins expect offensive tackle Chris Samuels (ankle), defensive tackle Daryl Gardener (back) and linebacker LaVar Arrington (hamstring) to practice Monday. Kicker Brett Conway and linebacker Eddie Mason (sprained shoulder) are also probable against Arizona.

Samuels' return is sorely needed after a season-ending arm injury to backup Rod Jones. Rookie Reggie Coleman allowed two sacks and a third quarterback hit against New England, though guard Kipp Vickers probably will play if Samuels doesn't return. Samuels estimated he was only 85 percent healthy after missing three games.

"I need to be out there for myself and my team, so I'll play no matter what," he said.

Said offensive line coach Kim Helton: "He's in my prayers every night."

With Arrington and Mason out against New England and linebacker Kevin Mitchell (pinched nerve) and Pierce injured, teammates nicknamed Lemar Marshall "The Lone Soldier" because he was the sole linebacker remaining, along with safety Ricot Joseph.

Left guard blues

Helton said he will name a starting left guard Monday, with Ross Tucker's lackluster performance against New England giving David Loverne and Vickers a chance. In his first start at left guard, Tucker missed a block that led to a fumble by quarterback Danny Wuerffel. He had started four on the right side.

"Below average. Definitely room for improvement," Tucker said. "I definitely think I'm still in the mix, [but] it was definitely my worst game of the five. I don't know how much it had to do with playing left [guard] for the first time."

Helton was especially upset about the first half, when the Patriots blitzed regularly. The Redskins allowed five sacks, which led to three fumbles.

"It's a curable disease, but when the first-string left tackle comes back we'll be fine," Helton said. "I'm sure Reggie Coleman grew up and will play better. He got his feelings hurt, that's for sure."

Helton raved over the quick start by Brenden Stai just three days after the right guard arrived in a trade with Detroit. With Samuels returning, it will be the offensive line's first stint together. Still, Helton was largely pleased by the preseason effort.

"I don't take a last preseason game with two days of preparation without pads on and discount everything that happened the four previous games," he said.

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