- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

Their playoff aspirations all but officially quashed, the Washington Redskins now enter the evaluation stage of the 2003 season. Beginning today against the New Orleans Saints, the Redskins (4-7) no longer are focused on the details of each game but rather on the larger picture of the franchise’s direction.

Much will be determined over the next five weeks, win or lose. The Redskins have plenty of questions that need to be answered before the season ends and club officials hunker down to formulate their latest offseason plan for improvement.

While not totally disregarding today’s game against the equally troubled Saints (5-6), Washington’s coaches and front-office staffs alike will be watching with a slightly skewed perspective. The actual outcome isn’t as important as how it occurs.

• How will Tim Hasselbeck respond to his first career start at quarterback with Patrick Ramsey on the sideline wearing street clothes and a soft cast on his injured right foot?

• How will running back Trung Canidate respond to the return of Ladell Betts, back after a month on the shelf with a fractured forearm?

• How will a defense that has come under intense fire after blowing back-to-back fourth-quarter leads respond to the criticism?

• How will the coaching staff, most of which has an uncertain future, respond to perhaps its last chances to save itself?

• Finally, how will the Redskins respond to their resigned fate — will they come out as a loose and carefree bunch with nothing to lose or flat with no passion now that their meaningful season is over?

“We were in this shape last year, and guys played pretty hard in winning our last two,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play.”

Said cornerback Fred Smoot: “We’re not going out there to lose, not in front of our home crowd. We’re going to go out there and play the best we can.”

Though there is plenty to watch today, most eyes will look first toward Hasselbeck, who played well coming off the bench for Ramsey last week but still has much to prove.

The 25-year-old quarterback completed 10 of his first 14 passes against Miami and helped give the Redskins a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter. He faltered down the stretch, however, and could only watch helplessly as the Dolphins rallied for a 24-23 victory.

Now Hasselbeck has another full week of practice, plus the comfort of knowing Ramsey won’t be available to replace him if things go bad. But Hasselbeck also knows he is playing for a permanent job next season — whether with the Redskins or someone else — and that fame can be fleeting for backup quarterbacks.

“The thing is, come 7 o’clock on Sunday, no one’s going to be thinking about Miami, and go, ‘Oh, he did a good job in his first major action.’” Hasselbeck said. “People are going to be thinking about how this game went this weekend. That’s what I need to be focusing on.”

Like the quarterback, Betts is playing for a job next season — a starting job in Washington.

After missing the last four games with a fractured forearm, Betts has been cleared to play and will see significant action out of the backfield. Though Canidate will start for the 12th time in 13 games, coaches and club officials have acknowledged privately that they no longer view the speedy running back as a long-term solution.

Betts, a second-round draft pick last year, has showed flashes of brilliance, and the team continues to tout him as a top prospect. But he has yet to show consistency or durability, and that’s precisely what the Redskins will be looking for over the next five weeks.

“I’m looking forward to getting back out there,” he said. “It’s been frustrating to be out, especially watching guys play the position that you play, and not being able to go out there and help the team win.”


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