- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

The offense is clicking, the defense is holding up and the breaks keep coming — particularly to opposing quarterbacks.

Internally and externally, the Washington Redskins have hit a streak of good fortune. From Saturday’s 24-3 preseason thumping of the Baltimore Ravens to that night’s injury to New York Jets passer Chad Pennington, Washington suddenly has reasons to be optimistic about its daunting start to the regular season.

Pennington’s fractured and dislocated wrist will sideline him at least 12 weeks and means neither opposing starting quarterback will play in the Redskins’ first two games. Atlanta’s Michael Vick already was sidelined for at least six weeks with a broken leg suffered Aug.16.

The difficulty of Washington’s first six regular-season contests — five are against 2002 playoff teams, the sixth against Super Bowl XXXVI champion New England — makes the injury news especially fortunate. However, don’t expect to find any Redskins celebrating an injury to an opposing player.

“There’s nothing positive about a guy getting injured,” cornerback Champ Bailey said Saturday night. “I hate to hear that. I don’t care how good he is or how many times I’ve got to play him. I never wish that upon any player in this league.”

Still, the Redskins have other reasons to smile after showing improvement in a variety of areas against the Ravens.

Offensively, the first-stringers scored three times behind quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who didn’t seem to be bothered by his week-old bruised index finger.

Baltimore entered with the preseason’s top-ranked defense, but Ramsey enjoyed his best exhibition outing. He completed eight of 13 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, hitting wide receiver Laveranues Coles for a 39-yard score on a second-quarter flea-flicker.

Also key, running back Trung Canidate boosted his claim for the starting job with several impressive rushes, including a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was his second score of the preseason.

Even though Canidate gained just 20 yards on eight carries, it appears unlikely he could lose his first-string status. Ladell Betts has done little in the preseason — missing the first two games with a sprained elbow and rushing six times for 10 yards Saturday — and Kenny Watson was silent against Baltimore. Betts, however, said yesterday that he still thinks he has a shot.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily too late, but we’ve only got one preseason game,” Betts said. “I think the job’s still open, because I don’t think anybody has done anything that has been all that outstanding.”

Maybe not at running back, but the defense certainly sparkled Saturday. With defensive tackles Jermaine Haley and Bernard Holsey solid inside and the Redskins’ Pro Bowl linebacking corps flying to the ball, Baltimore gained just 103 yards in the first half’s starters-vs.-starters competition, including just 42 yards before the half’s last series.

Ravens feature back Jamal Lewis, a two-time 1,300-yard back, averaged less than 1 yard per carry (5 yards on four rushes).

Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, for one, credited the shuffled interior line with holding its ground and keeping blockers off Washington’s three Pro Bowl linebackers.

“Sometimes you just need guys to get in there and do the dirty work,” Trotter said. “You need guys who you can depend on to do their job. I take my hat off to the guys up front, because their main focus is just keeping us free.”

The long-range plan for Washington is to sub its defensive tackles frequently, using a deep group of relatively equal talent to wear down opposing offensive lines. But Haley and Holsey didn’t need any subs Saturday when the Ravens starters went three-and-out on three of six series.

“They did some good things,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “They did a good job of holding up inside.”

Even special teams earned a gold star from coach Steve Spurrier, whose special teams struggled last year and in the first two preseason games. Among Saturday’s highlights were another strong effort by punter Bryan Barker, more solid kicking from John Hall and improved coverage teams.

“The special teams play was probably as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Spurrier said.

The next test is Thursday’s preseason finale at Jacksonville. Starters won’t play much as both clubs protect their key contributors and scrutinize players on the bubble for the final roster.

First cuts are due by tomorrow. The Redskins must trim 14 players to 65 plus NFL Europe exemptions. Washington’s nine NFL Europe players can remain with the team until final cuts.

Notes — None of Saturday’s injuries turned out to be serious. Rookie wide receiver Taylor Jacobs suffered a bruised rotator cuff and might miss practice today. Haley sprained an ankle and kept playing, but he said if it’s stiff today he’ll sit. … Guard Randy Thomas, who sat out with a sprained ankle, expects to return to the field today.

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