- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2003

This hasn’t been an easy preseason for Steve Spurrier.

First the Washington Redskins’ coach said he wasn’t going to read too much into his team’s preseason games after grossly overestimating the importance of last year’s 4-1 August record.

Then the Redskins stumbled their way through a 20-0 shellacking at Carolina and a 20-13 loss to New England. Now everyone wants Spurrier to join the masses and declare a local state of emergency.

Given his team’s poor showings thus far, and the public panic it has ignited, it would be easy for Spurrier to insist that tonight’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at FedEx Field suddenly carries far more significance. The Ball Coach, however, is not caving in to the pressure.

“We’d like to beat the Ravens, and I’m sure they’d like to beat us,” he said. “But we’ve still got our sights on the first game that counts. That’s no excuse for the way we’ve played. Trust me, we’re embarrassed by our performance. And we’re going to try to play better.”

The Redskins continue to point to Sept.4, when they open the regular season against the New York Jets, as the ultimate target date. Which is not to say they are satisfied with their 0-2 preseason mark. They’re just not overly concerned with it.

“I don’t want to talk about past seasons, but we went 2-0 last year in the preseason and that didn’t mean anything,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “We’re 0-2. Obviously, we’d rather be 2-0, but there’s nobody panicking, there’s nobody hitting the old fire alarm here. We’re doing what we need to do and trying to get our work done.”

Washington isn’t about to sacrifice its long-term plans in an effort to pull off a preseason victory. To that end, Spurrier does not plan to play his starters beyond the second quarter tonight, much like last week against the Patriots. And quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who missed two days of practice with a bruised knuckle on his throwing hand, likely won’t play beyond the first quarter.

“He needs to play, but he needs to be healthy,” Spurrier said. “So it doesn’t make sense to put him out there to get hit a whole bunch.”

With Ramsey banged up and the entire corps of running backs healthy for the first time in the preseason, the Redskins could focus more on its ground game this week. In typical Spurrier fashion, Washington’s offensive game plan was strongly skewered toward the pass in the first two games (71 passes to 50 rushes).

The coaching staff needs to get a good look at its running backs, though, especially now that Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson have been deemed healthy.

Trung Canidate again will start at tailback, but the Redskins have seen what the former St. Louis Rams speedster can do. They are far more interested this week in Betts, who missed more than three weeks with a sprained elbow, postponing his long-awaited debut until tonight.

“Ladell Betts needs to play some,” Spurrier said. “He hasn’t played all year yet, so he’ll get a lot of action. Trung will start, but he will not play most of it.”

The staff also will closely monitor its receiving corps, with a couple of roster spots open heading into Tuesday’s first round of cuts. Starters Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner, plus backups Taylor Jacobs and Cliff Russell, are assured of making the team, but club officials would like to see more out of veterans Patrick Johnson and Darnerian McCants before handing them roster spots over young free agent pickups Scott Cloman and Richmond Flowers.

Meanwhile, the Redskins will watch their makeshift defensive line with some trepidation. After starting nose tackle Brandon Noble went down with a season-ending knee injury last week, the club is counting on unheralded tackles Jermaine Haley, Bernard Holsey, James Cannida and newly acquired Martin Chase to plug the holes.

Haley, who started the first two games opposite Noble, will slide over to the nose tackle spot, with Holsey starting at the other tackle position. Cannida will see significant playing time, while Chase who was picked up Wednesday in a trade with New Orleans will get a brief look.

As if the Redskins needed any more reasons to gear up for this game, they also must contend with the notion held by some that this is a big rivalry game with their AFC counterparts from 40 miles up the road.

The Ravens have tried to turn this into a heated rivalry, using some well-documented controversies from the last time the two teams played (in the 2000 regular season at FedEx Field). The Redskins, though, don’t seem to be buying into the “Battle of the Beltways.”

“We’re not in the same division, and we don’t play each other that much,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “And it’s a preseason game. It’s hard to have a rivalry game in the preseason. Trust me, three weeks from now, you’re going to forget all about this game.”

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