- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

A chance to start has Bruce Smith almost certain to play a 19th NFL season.
The Washington Redskins defensive end yesterday confirmed the high likelihood that he'll continue his Hall of Fame career. But he noted that his decision isn't final and that it took conversations yesterday with coach Steve Spurrier and owner Dan Snyder to get to this point.
Agent Leigh Steinberg had said in recent weeks that Smith wouldn't retire after giving it serious consideration in recent months. But Smith apparently wasn't so certain, and Spurrier confirmed that the player is worried about the starting right end position, which has been given to newly signed Regan Upshaw.
"Bruce, he's like any competitor," Spurrier said. "Basically, all he wants to know is, 'Hey, if I'm playing a little bit better than him, I'm going to be the starter, right?' And I said, 'You certainly are.' Whoever plays the best has been the starter on every team I've ever coached in my life.
"We have real confidence in Regan Upshaw. We think he's going to be super. They're both going to play a lot. Whoever the starter is, he'll be playing a little bit better than the other guy. But they're both going to play. It's as simple as that. In football now, the more you can rotate a lot of players, the better your team is."
Smith, for his part, wouldn't confirm what he sought to resolve or which issues remain. But he did say of a final decision, "After this meeting, it'll be soon."
He added, "I'm not going to get into specifics, [I will say] just that there is some optimism that is there. I can tell you that some of the moves that have been made [in free agency] generate a great deal of excitement. But there are still some issues we have to work on."
Smith complimented the pickup of Upshaw as "a great move adding depth to the team and shoring up a rotation that can come in and out and have a fresh wave."
Clearly, though, he intends to fight Upshaw for the job. Smith is a prideful player, and with good reason. Perhaps history's premier pass-rusher, he now stands just three sacks short of Reggie White's NFL record of 198. Even as he approaches 40 (his birthday is in June), he refuses to think of himself in a diminished capacity.
"They've been saying [Id take a part-time role] for about the last five years or so," Smith said with a smile. "I think once a season has started over the last five years, the things I'm able to contribute out on the field, you're not able to replace them."
Former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis planned to use Smith as a part-time player, and he would have cut Smith if he found a young player who could play to the same level, sources have said. Lewis' departure helped ensure Smith's place on the team, and now it seems he has a chance to win his old job as well.
Smith did acknowledge that it hurts to lose defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who played to a Pro Bowl level last season (without being invited to the game) and was a big reason Smith had nine sacks. Gardener recently signed with Denver, while Washington replaced him with blue-collar Brandon Noble (who happens to be from Smith's hometown of Virginia Beach).
"I think Daryl's one heck of a ballplayer," Smith said. "We work well together, and he certainly did some things out there on the field that can't be replaced. I don't know if there's any other Daryl Gardeners out there in the league right now. But I wish him well, and I understand we've got one of the guys from my hometown. We'll see what happens."
Notes ESPN.com reported that April 3 is set for the hearing to determine whether the New York Jets properly matched Washington's offer sheet to kick returner Chad Morton. The dispute, filed by the NFL Players Association against the Management Council, initially was expected to be heard late this week or early next week. The NFLPA has said an outright award of Morton to the Redskins is possible. … The Redskins remain hopeful that wide receiver Raghib "Rocket" Ismail will sign shortly. … Personnel director Vinny Cerrato said the upcoming draft is very strong with punters. The club also is considering veteran Tom Tupa. … Spurrier left open the chance of a veteran quarterback, rather than a rookie, filling the No.3 spot.

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