- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

As the Washington Redskins officially exited the 2003 preseason and began full preparations for Thursday night’s opener against the New York Jets, coach Steve Spurrier remained mum on the one relatively unimportant question that nonetheless had Washington abuzz.

Will Danny Wuerffel be the backup quarterback?

Spurrier was not available at Redskin Park, spending the day in meetings. Instead, guidance for an educated guess was provided by Spurrier’s history and comments after Thursday’s 17-15 loss at Jacksonville in the preseason finale.

“He had a lot of good plays,” Spurrier said that night. “He had a few he could have thrown a little straighter, I thought, especially the one to Zeron [Flemister]. He just let that one get away from him. He’s very capable of throwing the ball a lot better than that one.”

Such comments on Wuerffel, a refusal to comment on Rob Johnson and a past inability to give up on Wuerffel seemingly give the edge to his favorite former Gator.

Johnson entered training camp as the backup and struggled early, but he steadily improved after Wuerffel signed. Still, Johnson’s preseason rating was 48.8. Wuerffel did little in camp or the preseason until Thursday’s second half, when a flourish against the Jaguars’ deep reserves left him with a 108.9 rating for the game and a team-high 84.2 mark for the preseason.

A likely scenario, according to team sources, had both Wuerffel and Johnson making the final roster with Spurrier not immediately naming a backup. Thus, rookie Gibran Hamdan, who isn’t ready to see regular-season action anyway, would be waived and added to the practice squad. A No.2 wouldn’t need to be named until Thursday.

Meanwhile, center Larry Moore said he would return to practice this afternoon and was upbeat about his knee, where the posterior cruciate ligament was torn in the third week of training camp.

“Right now I’m feeling real strong,” Moore said. “There’s hardly any pain left in it. I’ve been running. I’m feeling good.”

Moore’s return is important even though Lennie Friedman performed well as a spot starter. Washington’s offensive line already was incorporating two new starters, and having Moore healthy would allow the line to jell after a preseason of generally good but not great results.

Otherwise, the Redskins have no significant injuries. Three players were held out Thursday for mild ailments — nose tackle Jermaine Haley (ankle) and linebackers LaVar Arrington and Jeremiah Trotter (knees) — but each worked out before the game and said yesterday he was ready to go. Running back Ladell Betts (shoulder) and defensive end Peppi Zellner (knee) said Thursday night that they hadn’t been seriously injured in the game.

Speculation about Wuerffel gave color to the otherwise meaningless preseason finale. Eight front-line Redskins who could have played were held out, and those starters who did play participated in less than a quarter. Starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey was 1-for-3 for 3 yards in two brief series.

Much of the game was devoted to Washington’s young players battling to stay on the final roster, but even there a great deal of drama was removed with last week’s first round of cuts. Released veterans like guard Tre Johnson, offensive lineman Rod Jones and cornerback Alex Molden have far more name recognition than any of the upcoming departures.

Washington began making cuts yesterday, but the moves won’t be publicized until tomorrow, the due date for the 53-man roster. The discrepancy is because of the Thursday game. The Redskins are making cuts because they don’t want exiting players to be in on game preparations. And they aren’t announcing the cuts because they don’t want other NFL teams to have an early shot at anticipated practice squad guys.

Running back Sultan McCullough is an expected example. He should be told of his cut by today, formally released tomorrow and, if he clears waivers, added to the practice squad Monday.

Among older players, defensive tackle Del Cowsette and defensive end Ladairis Jackson could exit as the Redskins make some hard choices. Even running back Kenny Watson, while probably a keeper because of special teams talent, can’t be sure he’ll miss a visit from the “Turk.”

“I’m not too worried about it,” Watson said. “I don’t make decisions around here. I just go out and play, play my game and work hard and leave it all out there.”

A few players improved their lots Thursday, particularly wide receivers Patrick Johnson and Darnerien McCants. In fact, Johnson’s team-high eight catches for 108 yards in the preseason might help him edge rookie Taylor Jacobs for the No.3 receiver spot. Jacobs performed well in practices but had three catches for 42 yards in games.

“The way my career has been, I haven’t had great opportunities,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not a [darn] good football player. I just want to go in and make the best out of every opportunity that I’ve got, just so I can show what I can do.”

Most victors in positional battles should become clear today, though in some situations the decision is almost certain.

Running back Trung Canidate, for example, is virtually assured of starting against the Jets, Spurrier confirmed Thursday night. Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete also appears likely to start. On the defensive line, Haley and Bernard Holsey have been the first-string tackles but newly acquired Martin Chase and Lional Dalton played well Thursday and could push for time.

Generally speaking, the Redskins were pleased with what they accomplished in a 1-3 preseason. The team improved from an ugly Aug.9 loss at Carolina to an Aug.23 blowout win over Baltimore and on Thursday met its simple goal of not getting anyone hurt.

Now the Redskins can look unabashedly toward a Jets game that has consumed part of their focus for weeks.

“I don’t necessarily know we’ve been looking ahead, but it would be foolish to say we weren’t a little bit,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “A preseason is what it is. We want to start the season off with a win. We want to start the season off with a bang. We want to get things rolling, get the excitement back and get the fans behind us.”

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