- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

The buzzword regarding Washington Redskins wide receivers these days is separation.

As in, they can't get any.

The receivers' inability to create space between themselves and defensive backs lies behind coach Steve Spurrier's move to get rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey ready, many observers believe.

The thinking goes that Washington's receivers are too slow to get open, and quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel are too weak-armed to put the ball in the resultant tight spaces. Ramsey and his powerful spirals are needed.

This week Redskins receivers except for the admittedly slow Chris Doering disputed the suggestions of sluggishness while emphasizing that getting open comes down to far more than simply running past cornerbacks.

"[Speed] probably won't get you open anyway, because that corner's fast, too," Rod Gardner said. "They'll just run with you. You've got to make him think you're going the other way."

Beating defensive backs through sharp route-running and timing was the receivers' focus during this week's open date. With Spurrier's Fun'n'Gun scheme ranking 25th in yards and the club 24th in scoring, the wideouts know their production must rise in the Oct.6 game at Tennessee.

"I think we need to play the way we practice," Doering said. "We go out and run the route in practice and block the right guy in practice, and sometimes in the heat of the battle we don't do that. It's a matter of knowing our assignments on every play and doing them to the best of our ability."

Washington's mediocre receiver play in recent weeks the group caught 11 passes for 125 yards and no touchdowns in losses to Philadelphia and San Francisco after 15 receptions for 223 yards and three scores in an opening win over Arizona had Spurrier talking of shuffling the corps, perhaps even replacing Gardner and/or Derrius Thompson as starters.

Practice formations indicated that Gardner and Thompson thus far have kept their roles, but ultimately each receiver should get plenty of playing time because of Spurrier's three- and four-receiver sets. That said, the wideouts practiced with a sense of urgency.

"Fear of your job probably raises the competition level so much," said Kevin Lockett, the reserve cited most frequently for getting added plays. "If you've got a guy who's a starter and he knows he'll be replaced if he doesn't play well, he'll play well. That makes you better, and it makes the team better."

Thompson, who has three catches in the past two games, is viewed as more likely to lose snaps to reserves. But he believes his play hasn't dropped off.

"I've got seven catches, and they've thrown me the ball eight times," Thompson said. "As a receiver, you can only do what you can do. You can only run routes. I can't help how many times they throw me the ball."

Which illustrates how interconnected Washington's problems are. The receivers might not be getting open consistently, but the quarterbacks aren't finding them when they are in the clear and the offensive line isn't giving the quarterbacks much time to look.

Still, the receivers have their end to hold up. Doering perhaps best knows the value of precise route-running in this offense, having overcome his lack of speed to become a second-team All-American in this scheme at Florida.

"I've never been fast," Doering said. "To get open you need to use stick steps. You've got to be able to disguise what you're doing, whether you're going deep or running the curl. There's a lot of things you can do to make up for speed, and in this league there are very few people who are able to run by corners."

The value of route-running has grown because of the way defenses have been playing Washington. The Eagles and 49ers used healthy doses of the cover 2, a soft zone that basically limits the deep ball. One of the key ways to beat a cover 2 is to have one receiver draw defenders to an area with his route, leaving another receiver momentarily open.

"Everything's worked out with timing," Doering said. "If you're going to throw [against a cover 2], you have to have guys who are going to hold those 'backers deep. They're dropping so many guys to keep things underneath, so in order to hit the passing lanes you've got to hold the guys in the right spots."

The corps believes it accomplished a lot in this week's three days of practice, maximizing the luxury of not having to develop a game plan. The receivers expect to be better at Tennessee and continue to improve from there.

"Every day we work on it," Gardner said. "We haven't mastered Spurrier's offense by far. We're still in the learning process, and it's going to take time."

Notes In the supplemental draft, the Houston Texans selected Florida State guard Milford Brown, who visited Redskin Park on Thursday. The Texans surrendered a sixth-round pick in the 2003 draft for Brown's rights.

San Francisco defensive end Andre Carter was fined $7,500 for his late hit on quarterback Shane Matthews in the third quarter last weekend. Carter's infraction was striking the quarterback with his helmet. Matthews' chest and back were injured on the play, and it remains unclear whether he will be healthy enough to play at Tennessee.

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