- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Punter Bryan Barker and safety Ifeanyi Ohalete are among the Washington Redskins whose jobs could be on the line as a highly anticipated three-day minicamp opens today.Barker, coming off his worst season, and Ohalete, whom the Redskins have sought to replace, can make important arguments for the club to hold off signing any veterans before training camp.Team officials will be scrutinizing those players and getting their first look at how 13 new veterans, three draft picks and 12 undrafted rookies mesh with the holdovers in five scheduled practices that are mandatory for players and closed to the public.”This weekend is the beginning of our 2003 season,” coach Steve Spurrier said yesterday. “We’re excited to see what kind of team we have. Obviously, a lot of work has to be done before we play the real season, but we’re real excited.”Tight end and backup outside linebacker are among the other spots that could get a veteran addition if current Redskins struggle. But personnel director Vinny Cerrato has estimated “95 percent” of the final roster is in-house, and clearly many roster spots have been determined by the cash and draft picks the club spent to fill them.Among the highest-profile newcomers are wide receiver Laveranues Coles (seven years, $35 million, plus a first-round pick), guard Randy Thomas (seven years, $28 million), wide receiver Taylor Jacobs (drafted in the second round) and running back Trung Canidate (traded for a fourth-round pick).”We’re confident that [those players are] going to be on our team and be major contributors to what we do this year,” Spurrier said. “There’s probably not as many openings as a lot of teams would have and certainly not as many as we had last year. So it’s a matter of learning what to do and learning to play smarter and just becoming a better team.”And for some, such as Barker and Ohalete, it’s a matter of proving themselves. The Redskins still have plenty of time to add free agents, and a new group of available players will enter the market after June 1. Barker and Ohalete, however, said they aren’t feeling pressure.”I don’t think [this is] different from any other year that I’ve played in the league,” Barker said. “When you play professional football, we always have to believe there are hundreds of guys out there trying to take your job. You have to prepare for each season like you’re in for a battle.”Last season ended prematurely but fittingly for Barker, who compiled the NFL’s worst net average (30.0 yards) before suffering an open nasal fracture Thanksgiving Day at Dallas. He was cleared to work out in January and is eager to re-establish the form he has displayed through most of his career.”I would like to think I’m the punter that I’ve been for the previous 13 years with the exception of a few punts last year,” Barker said. “What I had done up to that point is something I’m going to try to build on this year.”Young punters Brent Bartholomew and Mike Barr will be among eight players auditioning this weekend, though they are competing for a spot in training camp, not for Barker’s job per se. But the club could turn to a veteran like Tom Tupa if Barker struggles.Ohalete, a 2001 undrafted rookie, won Sam Shade’s strong safety job midway through last season, but the team remained interested in upgrading. It passed on Ohio State’s Mike Doss in the draft last weekend when Jacobs was available, and Ohalete now has a chance to bolster his stock. David Terrell and Andre Lott also are vying for his job.”You’ve always got to prove yourself every year,” Ohalete said. “I guess last year was a start, but they didn’t see enough of what they wanted to see. All I can do is go into this camp, show what I can do again, and hopefully that makes their decision where they don’t have to go out and find somebody.”Most scrutinized among the returning players will be second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey, considered the X-factor as expectations for this team rise. Ramsey, the unquestioned starter ahead of newly signed Rob Johnson, estimates he has gone through 15 or 16 three-hour sessions with coaches to prepare for this weekend.”I think I’ve prepared myself as well as I could have prepared myself,” Ramsey said. “I want to be as successful as I possibly can be, but time will tell how all that works out. I am excited to get out there on the field.”Notes — Unsigned veteran linebacker Eddie Mason will not participate and is making contingency plans for his future. If several young players disappoint, the Redskins could re-sign Mason, a key part of special teams in recent years. His shoulder, which underwent offseason surgery, isn’t 100 percent but could be for training camp. …Wide receiver Cliff Russell is ready for full practices after tearing his knee in last year’s training camp. Guard Tre Johnson (hamstring) and defensive end Greg Scott (ankle) could be limited. Defensive tackle Del Cowsette, who is healing from wrist surgery, will be limited. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who tore his knee Thanksgiving Day, won’t do much. …The Redskins hired Julia Payne, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, as vice president of communications.

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