- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

Forgive Joe Gibbs if he suffers a momentary lapse tonight at FedEx Field and thinks he’s back on the sideline at the Washington Redskins’ home from his first stint as coach.

Gibbs already sounded like he was in a time warp Thursday when talking about his first home game in 11 years.

“I love getting back to RFK, getting a chance to coach again there,” he said. “Because I know what our fans are like. I know they’re going to do their part.”

Washington, of course, hasn’t called RFK Stadium home in eight years. But can you really forgive Gibbs for thinking his team still plays on East Capitol Street instead of Landover? He’s got nearly half of his old coaching staff at his side again. He’s got a preseason quarterback battle to sort out. And he’s got the entire Washington area partying like it’s 1991 all over again.

All of which makes tonight’s game against the Carolina Panthers more than your average NFL exhibition.

In typical fashion, though, Gibbs is downplaying his role in tonight’s proceedings.

“I’m looking forward to the fans,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to playing the Panthers. I think our players realize they’re going up against a Super Bowl team. It’ll be a real challenge for us.”

Indeed, if Gibbs is looking to gauge where his team stands two weeks into the preseason, the defending NFC champions should provide a good litmus test. Carolina features one the league’s top defenses, including a fearsome front four that will be looking to exploit Washington’s new-look offensive line.

With Jon Jansen out for the season after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in Monday night’s 20-17 victory over Denver, unheralded Kenyatta Jones will make his first start for the Redskins at right tackle. Making matters even more challenging for Jones, who started 11 games for the Patriots in 2002, will be the imposing presence of Panthers Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.

“[Jones] realizes it’s a big challenge for him, because he’s going up against one of the premier players in the NFL,” Gibbs said. “But I think Kenyatta is excited. He’s doing all the right things. We’ll just have to see how he plays.”

The outcome of Jones’ one-on-one battle with Peppers will be of great interest to Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who gets his first chance to start after coming off the bench behind Mark Brunell against the Broncos.

Ramsey will be looking to improve on his performance from that game, when he completed just three of eight passes for 12 yards without producing any points.

“Truly, I’m not approaching this much differently than the last game when I didn’t start,” he said. “It’s certainly not any more pressure. You just want to go out there and be successful.”

As he did last week, Gibbs isn’t revealing how long he’ll leave his first stringers in the game, but it’s a safe bet Ramsey won’t get much more than the three offensive series Brunell had against Denver.

With so few opportunities to make an impression, Washington’s quarterbacks have to fight the temptation to try to do too much during their limited time on the field.

“It’s tough, but it’s what you’ve got to do,” Ramsey said. “It’s the preseason. Every quarterback, regardless of who you are, you’re not going to be in there the whole game. It’s tough to get a rhythm going, but at the same time, you’ve just got to find a way to do it.”

Neither Ramsey nor Brunell (4-for-8, 18 yards) made much of his opportunity on Monday, leaving each quarterback eager to make an emphatic statement for his case to be the Redskins’ starter come Sept.12 against Tampa Bay.

“We need to move the ball,” Brunell said. “We need some production. We need some points.”

Points could be at a premium tonight, with the weather expected to turn nasty as the remnants of Hurricane Charley sweep through town. Newly expanded FedEx Field (capacity: 91,665) is sold out as always, but a good number of fans may not want to tempt Mother Nature, even for a first-hand glimpse of Gibbs.

The Redskins have no choice but to suck it up and play through whatever obstacles Charley brings.

Which is just how Gibbs wants it. First home game or not, Washington’s Hall of Fame coach wants his players to be tested in every possible manner.

“The best players play the best in rainy weather, that’s the way I look at it,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to play in bad weather. It’s an outdoor sport. We’re going to play in everything you can think of.”

Notes — Linebacker Mike Barrow (knee), cornerbacks Rashad Bauman (hamstring) and Walt Harris (knee), running back Ladell Betts (hamstring), defensive end Phillip Daniels (abdomen), center Ben Nowland (knee) and wide receiver Cliff Russell (hamstring) will all sit out tonight’s game. …

Punter Tom Tupa will be a game-time decision after straining a muscle in his back during practice Thursday. …

Nose tackle Brandon Noble (broken hand) and right guard Randy Thomas (swollen knee) will be in the starting lineup after missing Monday’s game.

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