- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

Several prominent veterans on the Washington Redskins' offense said privately yesterday that quarterback Shane Matthews should remain the starter, and some are convinced he will keep his job if he's healthy for the next game, Oct. 6 at Tennessee.

Coach Steve Spurrier, meanwhile, said he intends to "stay flexible," continuing his selection process at the game's key position and professing no favorites among Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and rookie Patrick Ramsey.

"Stay flexible that's all I know how to do," Spurrier said. "I don't believe in having a set team, 'This is our team for the year.' We keep giving guys opportunities, and those who perform, they do most of the playing."

Wuerffel and Ramsey are splitting practice this week while Matthews rests his sore back and shoulder.

Wuerffel lined up first yesterday, and Spurrier continued to say that the former Heisman Trophy winner "needs to play a whole bunch" for the team to get an accurate read. The coach continues to hope that Wuerffel, who has struggled in two reserve appearances, "can return to the form he had in preseason."

Redskins veterans, however, said the offense needs continuity to succeed. They added that their analysis of game tape showed Matthews played well the past two games even though the offense as a whole struggled to a combined 10 points and 396 yards.

Teammates also praised Matthews' ability to get rid of the ball and take a hit two keys in this big play-oriented scheme.

Matthews has won teammates' respect by taking some ferocious hits, particularly one by Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins on Sept. 16 (which bruised Matthews' shoulder) and one by 49ers defensive end Andre Carter last weekend (which injured his chest and back). Matthews kept playing in both games and ultimately was subbed out because Spurrier believed the team needed a spark.

Matthews has been sacked three times in nine quarters, Wuerffel five times in three quarters (25 plays). Wuerffel was sacked on his first official play in last weekend's 20-10 loss at San Francisco (his actual first play was called back because of a penalty), and he ended up guiding a three-and-out and throwing an interception in two series.

Some players are certain Matthews will remain quarterback; one said he would be "stunned" if that does not happen. But a few others aren't so sure, thinking it's possible Spurrier might select Wuerffel. Most players believe Ramsey is a long shot to win the job at this point.

Matthews, for his part, is confident with his performance so far.

"I haven't played bad," Matthews said. "I'm hard on myself, and I'll tell you when I've played poorly. But I haven't played poorly at all. We just haven't been getting it done as a unit offensively."

He reiterated, "Whatever decision [Spurrier] makes, I'll support it."

Spurrier has said Matthews wasn't to blame for the recent struggles, noting poor pass-blocking by the line and errant route-running by the receivers. However, he refused to resolve this apparent conflict: He said Matthews hasn't played poorly but still decided to yank the passer twice and is now considering replacing him.

"Again, we'll play whoever we think gives us the best chance to win," Spurrier replied when asked that question.

Matthews' shoulder and lower back still hurt but feel a little better, he said. He added that it is "too early to tell" whether he will play against the Titans.

Ramsey, despite seemingly long odds he will get the nod so soon, is making solid progress in practice, Spurrier and several players said.

Regardless of Matthews' health and the progress of Wuerffel and Ramsey, an announcement on the starter might not come until the "latter part of [next] week," according to Spurrier.

"We don't have to say anything," Spurrier said. "There's nothing in the rule book that says we have to announce a starter, does it? Not until he runs out there, right? The gamblers might be a little upset. We may wait until Saturday. Who knows?"

Meanwhile, Spurrier extended an earlier statement that several backup receivers will get more snaps against Tennessee by saying there's a possibility the starting jobs of Rod Gardner and Derrius Thompson could be in jeopardy.

"Sure there is," Spurrier said. "Our starters aren't real bad, but they weren't real great the last game. They weren't terrible, but we need to be sharper."

Gardner and Thompson, however, continued to line up as starters in practice. Kevin Lockett has won the most praise from Spurrier and seems the most likely to get added playing time.

Notes Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said he will continue to play with a cast on his sprained wrist indefinitely. He acknowledged after the 49ers game that it all but eliminated his ability to tackle. Linebacker Jessie Armstead's tackle total against San Francisco was upped one to 18 (all solo) after the coaches' review of the game tape. Armstead now leads the team with 32 tackles on the season.

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