- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Redskins Notes

Brett Conway's future in Washington is very much in doubt after he was injured in the Redskins' season-opening 31-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals yesterday.
Conway strained his right quadriceps while converting a 35-yard field goal on the Redskins' first drive. The injury didn't really show on Conway's two subsequent kickoffs in the first half or his four extra point tries, but he managed to send the ball only 45 and 39 yards on his kickoffs in the third quarter.
That prompted coach Steve Spurrier to replace him on kickoffs with backup quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
"It's so frustrating," said Conway, who missed the final three preseason games and was cut after Week 3 in 2000 because of similar injuries. "I had a pretty good warmup. I made a 48-yarder by probably 10 yards, but then I felt it on the field goal during the first quarter. I tried to hide it as long as I could, but then it became a little obvious.
"What they do is out of my hands. I'm worried about my future in general. [Time off] will be mandatory whether they do it for me or not. But we'll see how it responds tomorrow."
In the meantime, Spurrier said the Redskins will bring back Jamie Tuthill who made a 23-yard field goal and all four of his extra point tries at Tampa Bay while Conway was hurt last month and another kicker for tryouts this week.
NFL career scoring leader Gary Anderson is unsigned but is 43. Among the younger available kickers are former Dallas Cowboys Tim Seder and Jon Hilbert and ex-Buffalo Bill Shayne Graham. The Redskins went through four kickers in 2000 after cutting Conway, and their failures cost the team a playoff spot. And now history could repeat itself.
"We're going to have to do something because we don't know if Brett will be ready by next Monday [when Philadelphia comes to Landover]," said special teams coach Mike Stock, who'd like the Redskins to keep Conway either on the active roster or on injured reserve.
Spurrier said the Redskins were "dumb" not to have tested Conway more thoroughly, but Stock said the kicker looked fine in practice last week and before the final cuts.
"You can only go by what you know and Brett said he felt fine and he had a clean bill of health from the doctors," Stock said. "Brett kicked off on Thursday and Friday with no after-effects [from his preseason injury]."
Wuerffel surprised Spurrier by not taking a running start on his 41-yard kickoff.
"With three steps, you're less likely to miss," Wuerffel said with a laugh. "I didn't want to take a divot."
Fellow golfer Spurrier was able to smile about Wuerffel's misadventure, especially after the quarterback knocked Arizona's Marcel Shipp out of bounds after a 29-yard return.
"That could have cost us the game," Spurrier said. "Fortunately it didn't."

Sorry to see you go
He had his touchdown return of an apparent fumble by Jake Plummer overruled by the officials, but Champ Bailey still managed to get the last laugh against his favorite patsy. The Redskins' Pro Bowl cornerback administered the coup de grace in their four-year rivalry and the game, picking off a Plummer pass at the Arizona 27 with 1:04 remaining to clinch Washington's victory.
The interception was Bailey's fifth in seven games against the Cardinals and his fourth against Plummer. However, unless they finish in the same place in their divisions this year or next, Washington and Arizona won't meet again until 2005.
"Jake will be missed," Bailey said. "It's too bad we didn't get the challenge off on the fumble because it was a touchdown. On the interception, I knew they would try something quick so I jumped in there and got it."
Bailey got in for two plays on offense on the first drive of the third quarter. The Redskins faked two reverses but Stephen Davis ran for eight yards on each play.
"I wanted the ball bad and I started to take it away from Stephen, but as long as we got yards, that's fine with me," Bailey said with a laugh.

Smoot smote
Champ Bailey shadowed David Boston in past seasons, but new defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis prefers a left side, right side approach so Fred Smoot was on Arizona's muscular receiver most of the game. Boston caught seven passes for 138 yards, including a 34-yarder on which Smoot blew the tackle (and which led to Bill Gramatica's 39-yard field goal that narrowed Washington's lead to 17-16) and he slipped en route to being beaten on Boston's 29-yard touchdown grab that was the game's final score.
"I was looking at the quarterback instead of at Boston on the touchdown and I missed that tackle, so he made some plays, but we ended the game with the 'W' and that's all that matters," said the cocky Smoot, who had bragged last week that the Redskins would win as long as they scored seven points.

First start a success
Derrius Thompson beat out veteran wideouts like Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony in the preseason for a starting spot opposite Rod Gardner, and didn't disappoint yesterday in his first-ever start.
"I was excited about [the start]," Thompson said. "I was a little nervous coming in, but once I got out on the field, I just played my game. I was just fortunate to have the opportunity to make plays."
The third-year receiver out of Baylor appeared in every game last season but had just three receptions. Yesterday, Thompson hauled in four passes for 45 yards and added 13 yards on an end-around. His biggest play came on a 17-yard fourth-quarter TD catch that put the Redskins up 31-16.
"We were running four wide, they rolled a couple [defensive backs]," Thompson said. "I just ran [the pattern] and Shane [Matthews] made a quick throw."

Gardner's grabs
Rod Gardner was drafted 15th overall last season because he had the prototypical body (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) to be a No.1 receiver. Yesterday he showed his most promising signs of fulfilling that potential.
Sure, last season Gardner caught 208 yards worth of passes in a pivotal win over the Carolina Panthers. But that performance was kind of a fluke he was wide open for an 85-yard touchdown to tie the game late and made a 47-yard catch in overtime to set up the winning score.
Yesterday's first effort in the Fun 'n' Gun was far more consistent. Gardner had catches of six, 15, 10, 14 yards in the first half three of which converted first downs and receptions of 29, 14 and 43 yards in the second half (two conversions and a touchdown).
Several of the catches came in traffic and several ended with hard hits. The most impressive was the 43-yard touchdown, on which Gardner grabbed a jump ball from Shane Matthews and ripped it from the hands of cornerback Duane Starks, a former Baltimore Ravens standout who was Arizona's big defensive free agent signing this offseason.
"It was a post route, and I tried to kind of freeze the safety and throw it over his head," Matthews explained. "It didn't come out of my hand very well. But Rod, with his size, he just shielded the defender and went up and made a tremendous catch. That was all Rod Gardner. I had nothing to do with that."
Gardner's sharp play on that "50-50" ball made for a striking contrast to the moniker he earned early last season "50-50," for the apparent odds of him making a given catch. Consistent drops frustrated Gardner last year but now seem to be behind him.
"My rookie year, I always knew I had it in me but I think it was first-year jitters not to mess up, not to make that bad play or drop a ball," Gardner said. "But throughout the game and the season, I dropped the ball. Now I go out there with that confidence. I don't even worry about it. I know I'm going to catch it. I've got great hands. I've just got to make the plays."

O-line holds up
The area of greatest doubt through the preseason was the offensive line, which shuffled personnel at the guard positions and lost Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels to a sprained ankle Aug.10. Yesterday, the line did a good job as Samuels returned and Brenden Stai and David Loverne played the entire game at right and left guard.
"I think today we went out and played hard and showed everybody they shouldn't be as concerned as they were," said Samuels, who had no problem with his ankle. "We had some mistakes out there, to be sure, but we'll keep ironing those things out and we'll get better from week to week."
Stai seemed up to speed after coming from the Detroit Lions in a trade two weeks ago, but he was in on two negative plays the tipped pass that went off him and to Arizona defensive tackle Barron Tanner setting up a Cardinals touchdown, and a sack by Fred Wakefield that nixed Washington's two-minute drill near the end of the first half.
Loverne, meanwhile, was expected to rotate with Ross Tucker but did not. Explained offensive line coach Kim Helton: "I thought things were going pretty good, so we let [Loverne] hang in there. It will be a week-to-week thing. He didn't surprise me. He did a nice job. Actually I wish I had put Tucker in there for a couple of series, but I got caught up in the whole deal and didn't get it done. Tucker handled it well."

Slight nerves
Coach Steve Spurrier acknowledged the "little jitters, anticipation, what have you," that came along with his NFL debut. He and first-year defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis joked about the emotion prior to the game; Spurrier expected Lewis to be used to the excitement after 11 seasons at this level, but Lewis told him coaches never get used to it.
Spurrier, however, did say he felt most of his emotion during the week. By yesterday he was too focused to reflect on this stage of his career.
"Once the game started, I was just out there calling plays, getting mad when we did something careless, cheering for the guys and just coaching," Spurrier said.

Headset chatter
No more hand signals for coach Steve Spurrier. After years of trying to find new ways to fool opponents as he relayed plays into the huddle, he got to speak to quarterback Shane Matthews directly through the headset.
Coaches can talk in the headset from when the play clock starts with 40 seconds left to when there are 15 seconds remaining.
"Sometimes he leaves his hand on that button, and you hear everybody on the sideline screaming and yelling," Matthews said with a laugh. "You can't even hear yourself talking. But he's not afraid to punch the button, and if he sees something, go to it."

Other than Brett Conway's strained quad, the Redskins didn't suffer any serious injuries. Stephen Davis mildly strained his groin. Free safety David Terrell had mild heat cramps. Backup linebacker Eddie Mason aggravated the sprained shoulder that he injured in preseason but said he'll be ready for Philadelphia. Backup defensive tackle Carl Powell suffered a contusion to his right knee.

Tight end Walter Rasby (sprained knee), linebacker Antonio Pierce (ankle), halfback Ladell Betts, receiver Darnerien McCants, guard Alex Sulfsted and defensive ends Otis Leverette and Greg Scott were inactive for the Redskins.
David Elfin, Jody Foldesy and Duff Durkin

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