Convinced that punter Bryan Barker has fixed last season’s problems, the Washington Redskins cut competitor David Leaverton yesterday and announced that Barker will start the season.
Leaverton was among Washington’s nine cuts as it heads toward today’s deadline for the 65-man roster. Also released were veteran offensive linemen Tre Johnson and Rod Jones, neither of whom had done anything because of injuries. The Redskins will make their remaining five cuts this morning.
Barker impressed coaches in two straight games. Following a shanked punt in the preseason opener — reviving a problem from last season — Barker survived a punt-off with Brent Bartholomew against New England on Aug.16 and then averaged 52.3 yards in Saturday’s win over Baltimore.
“He earned the job,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’s punted very well, punted well the other night. He’s our punter. … We believe he has returned to the form of a couple years ago.”
Among NFC punters, Barker is tied for fifth with a 45.7-yard gross average and ranks seventh with a 38.1-yard net average. Last season he grossed just 40.1 yards and ranked last in the NFL with a 30.0-yard net.
Yesterday’s news generated little reaction on the part of the 1997 Pro Bowl pick, no surprise as Barker seemed oblivious to the past month’s challenges for his job.
“You guys got me on tape already this year, and my story hasn’t changed at all,” Barker said. “When my season ended early last year [due to an open nasal fracture at Dallas], my main goal was to get ready for this year. I came into minicamp in the best shape of my life. I’ve had the best training camp I’ve had in 16 training camps. I said I’m just trying to get ready for the season, and that hasn’t changed.”
A slip-up during the season, of course, could drop Barker back into competition with some free agent. Special teams coach Mike Stock acknowledged that the club won’t rule out another competitor, saying, “It’s no different than any other position on the football team.”
Johnson was a fan favorite during his first stint with the Redskins, from 1994 to 2000. He returned last year to shore up an embattled line, but didn’t get into game shape until the final three games. A career-long battle with injuries intensified in recent years, and during this camp he injured his Achilles’ tendon on the first day of practice.
Jones had similar problems staying healthy. Signed last season to be a starter, he missed the entire year with a torn biceps and then was injured early in camp with a sprained ankle.
“We just didn’t think they’d be able to beat out the 10 guys we’ve got here,” Spurrier said.
Two receivers who had nice camps, Scott Cloman and Richmond Flowers, also were cut. Rounding out yesterday’s unlucky nine were fullback Thad Buttone, defensive lineman Nic Clemons, wide receiver Sean Dillard and linebacker Shamar Finney.
Wuerffel’s last stand
Quarterback Danny Wuerffel, mostly an afterthought since signing in the first week of camp, will play at least a half at Jacksonville in a final shot to win a roster spot and maybe even unseat backup Rob Johnson.
“He hasn’t had much of an opportunity in the preseason, so he’ll get at least half the game,” Spurrier said.
The coach didn’t rule out the possibility of Wuerffel beating out Johnson, who struggled early in camp but picked up after Wuerffel was signed.
“We’re going to let [Wuerffel] play this week, and obviously we’re going to judge him,” Spurrier said. “We’ll look at all of them and see who we think is the more capable backup.”
A Heisman Trophy winner under Spurrier at Florida, Wuerffel hasn’t been particularly impressive in practice and has gotten little work in preseason games. He didn’t play in the Aug.16 game against New England and otherwise has seen only mop-up duty, hitting eight of 13 passes for 84 yards with an interception.
Washington’s starters, meanwhile, are expected to play about a quarter, maybe going into the second quarter, Spurrier said.
The Redskins expect to find out today whether a new trade proposal for defensive tackle Lional Dalton is accepted. Washington would give Denver a low-round pick conditional on Dalton making the roster, and he would join the competition at the “three-technique” defensive tackle, where Bernard Holsey is ahead of James Cannida and Martin Chase. …
Linebacker LaVar Arrington missed practice with what the club called a mild knee sprain. He is expected to practice today. …
Nose tackle Jermaine Haley sat out with a sprained ankle. He is questionable for practice today and the Jacksonville game. Del Cowsette was elevated to Haley’s place with the starters, and Chase took some reps as a reserve nose tackle. …
Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs practiced despite a sprained shoulder. … Guard Randy Thomas (ankle) returned after missing all last week. …
Running back Ladell Betts should get a number of carries at Jacksonville, but Spurrier feels comfortable with what he already has seen of Kenny Watson. …
Spurrier again paid Lennie Freidman, the spot starter at center, an unsolicited compliment. However, the coach said Larry Moore probably would return from injury as the starter. Moore, sidelined with a sprained PCL, ran on the side at practice. …
Cornerback Champ Bailey, asked about Washington using the franchise tag if he doesn’t agree to an extension, replied, “That’s up to them. Of course I can’t stop them from doing it, but I don’t think you get anything positive out of it.”