- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

The Washington Redskins' offense would be good enough to win if it returns intact next season, several members of the unit said yesterday.

The Redskins' scoring offense, which ranks above only Cincinnati in the NFL, generally is blamed for the team's failure to reach the playoffs this season. And yesterday coach Marty Schottenheimer acknowledged that that observation likely is correct.

But the club has averaged 20.4 points over its last 10 games, going 7-3 and setting up a possible .500 finish tomorrow against the Arizona Cardinals. The Redskins' modest surge is nearly five points higher than their overall average (15.7), higher than the league average (19.6) and would rank 15th if it was spread out over the year.

Some players think that, with an offseason together and increased familiarity, the offense would be more than adequate next year.

"We just need to see if we can keep this together and take it to the next level," guard Ben Coleman said. "We won't be 0-5. It won't be a situation where we don't understand what our identity is. And instead of trying to learn the system next year, all you'll be doing is fine-tuning it. That's how good teams become great."

Said quarterback Tony Banks: "If I have an offseason with receivers, we can't help but get better. That's just a given. That's something I take pretty seriously."

The Redskins scored only 32 points in their 0-5 start. Starting quarterback Jeff George was released after two games and Banks was installed hastily. The offense has improved but remained limited during the past 10 games, relying on running back Stephen Davis while the defense and special teams do their jobs.

Schottenheimer likes the offensive progress but doesn't think it's enough, saying, "In the game today, I think you need to score at least three touchdowns to win 21, 24 points is what you're looking for."

But he doesn't seem to want major changes on a unit that has seven starters (Banks, Coleman, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, tight end Stephen Alexander, fullback Donnell Bennett, guard Dave Szott and center Cory Raymer) and several key reserves set to become unrestricted free agents on March 1.

"I think we can be competitive in this league with what we are and the way we are, as long as we do the things that we know [how to do]," Schottenheimer said. "I think we are more like the team that we've been over the past 10 weeks than we are like the team of the first five weeks."

Most talk outside the team centers around obtaining a proven quarterback. But many passers might become frustrated by this conservative system and play below their potential. And what about replacing coordinator Jimmy Raye? That's a possibility, but players would need time to learn a new system and find their strengths in it.

So even as owner Dan Snyder investigates dramatic changes for the franchise possibly even replacing Schottenheimer as general manager or coach it might make the most sense to stay on the current path, even if the path is slow in clearing.

"We still haven't reached even close to our potential," Coleman said. "What we could do, our limitations I think it took awhile to figure that out. But right now, we know what we do well. And what we do well is good enough to win. It might not be exciting, but it's a good way to win ballgames."

Westbrook probable

Westbrook, bothered by a sprained ankle from last week's win at New Orleans, was upgraded to probable after practicing. He said he still needs a full day of rest today to ensure that he can play in what likely will be his final game as a Redskin.

Westbrook's departure after seven seasons has been almost a foregone conclusion in recent weeks, because he has appeared frustrated by Schottenheimer's conservative offense and the coach has looked to rookie Rod Gardner as the top target.

But Westbrook, the draft's fourth overall pick in 1995, is happy for the chance to finish out a 16-game season for just the second time in his career and he isn't ruling out re-signing. That said, there are some things he won't miss about Washington if this is indeed the end.

"There were games when fans would sit behind me and bash me the whole game," Westbrook said. "If I'm not here next year I won't miss that."

Among other injured Redskins, Coleman (knee), Davis (knee) and linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee) all practiced and should play.

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