- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Three fumbles in five games ended Champ Bailey's tenure as the Washington Redskins' punt returner. Rookie Bruce Branch, who was signed to the practice squad on Nov.26 and activated Tuesday, will be Bailey's replacement beginning with Sunday's game against Houston.

"This has been an eyesore for us for a while," special teams coach Mike Stock said. "We need to get some consistency there. Bruce has done it a ton of times. Hopefully, he'll field the ball consistently and won't give up the ball."

Stock and defensive backs coach George Catavolos worked out Branch at Penn State before April's draft. The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Richmond native, who averaged 10.7 yards and scored three touchdowns on 109 punt returns for the Nittany Lions while also starting two years at cornerback, signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent and spent time on the practice squads in Green Bay and Tennessee before coming to Washington.

"You've got to be confident back there, and I've been doing this for a long time," Branch said. "This is a great opportunity for me to show I can play on this level."

Waiting on Pro Bowl

Bailey expects to be named to the NFC Pro Bowl team today. Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and offensive tackle Chris Samuels don't. Linebacker LaVar Arrington isn't sure.

Bailey was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and went back to Hawaii last year as an injury replacement for Philadelphia's Troy Vincent. This year Bailey seems likely to join Vincent and Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber as the NFC's three Pro Bowl corners, although the Eagles' Bobby Taylor also is a strong candidate.

"I better be on there," said Bailey, who believes he's having the best of his four seasons. "Last year I was pretty upset [at not making the team initially], but I toughed it out."

Gardener, who was named by the Quarterback Club on Tuesday as the Redskin of the Year, said he was surprised to be so honored and when it comes to Pro Bowl acclaim, "now we're reaching." Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp is a lock, and Philadelphia's Corey Simon and Dallas' La'Roi Glover also would seem more likely choices for the three tackle spots.

With 61 tackles and three sacks, Gardener has been as pivotal as holdovers Bailey and Arrington in making the Redskins the 10th-ranked defense.

"I don't look at it as my best season, but people seem to think so," Gardener said.

Arrington went to his first Pro Bowl last year despite recording just half a sack. His 10 this year are second among linebackers and he has 94 tackles, just six shy of his 2001 total. The Bucs' Derrick Brooks, Atlanta's Keith Brooking and Chicago's Brian Urlacher figure to be chosen with Arrington and the Cowboys' Dexter Coakley next in line.

"I'm not going to say that I don't deserve it," Arrington said. "I've got 10 sacks, but I really don't know what to expect. I'm going to take a vacation either way."

Samuels was picked for his first Pro Bowl last year. But his early-season struggles and Washington's offensive woes might doom his chances against the likes of the Eagles' Tra Thomas, St. Louis' Orlando Pace, Seattle's Walter Jones and Arizona's Leonard Davis.

"If I make it, it will be a blessing because I had a rough first half," Samuels said. "If I don't, I'll be there next year because I'll work hard to make up for this year."

Who's the halfback?

Neither coach Steve Spurrier nor running backs coach Hue Jackson would say whether Kenny Watson or Ladell Betts is starting for injured halfback Stephen Davis. Watson is first on the depth chart.

Fullback Bryan Johnson, center Larry Moore and defensive tackle Carl Powell missed practice with a stomach virus. Spurrier expects all three to be ready for the Texans. Veteran Kipp Vickers, who has seen limited action in three games and been inactive the past seven weeks, seems likely to start at left guard in place of David Loverne.

New arrivals

Quarterback Chris Griesen and defensive lineman DeAngelo Lloyd joined the practice squad. Griesen, Arizona's seventh-round pick in the 1999 draft, played in two games for the Cardinals that year and two more in 2000 before being inactive in 2001. Lloyd was in camp with the New York Jets this summer after playing for Frankfurt of NFL Europe this spring.

Harvey, Curry to be honored

Linebacker Ken Harvey, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Redskins from 1994 to 1997, and former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry are the newest members of the Redskins' Ring of Fame and will be inducted during halftime of Sunday's game.

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