- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

If Washington Redskins fans believe the team is close to being ready for its Sept.12 regular-season opener, they need only listen to Joe Gibbs as he deals out some harsh doses of reality.

“No, I don’t think we’re close,” the coach said this week. “We have a lot of things to improve upon. I felt like last week we backed up. That’s going in the wrong direction.”

Gibbs was not at all pleased with the regression his team seemed to take in last Saturday’s 23-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. And it’s not like the Redskins wowed many folks in Gibbs’ first game back in the NFL, a sloppy 20-17 victory over the Denver Broncos in Canton, Ohio.

Which makes tonight’s third game of the preseason against the Miami Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium all the more important from Washington’s standpoint.

A solid effort from his first- and second-stringers might convince Gibbs his team is coming together in time for the start of the regular season. Another snoozer, though, and Redskins players, coaches and fans alike might have reason to start showing preliminary signs of panic.

“We want to step up,” Gibbs said. “All the things we had problems with last week, we hope we’ll show some improvement.”

First and foremost, Gibbs needs to get his offense in sync after a dreadful performance against Carolina.

Quarterback Mark Brunell rejoins the first-string offense after giving way to challenger Patrick Ramsey last week, getting a chance to state his case definitively for the starting job.

Brunell has not shown much so far, completing 10 of 23 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But the left-handed veteran appears to be miles ahead of the younger Ramsey, who faltered mightily against the Panthers and enters tonight’s game with a paltry 27.1 quarterback rating in the preseason.

Not that either quarterback has gotten much help from his supporting cast.

The Redskins’ offensive line continues to try to jell in the wake of Jon Jansen’s season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury. Kenyatta Jones will make his second start in place of Jansen at right tackle, hoping to improve on his mediocre-at-best showing last week.

Gibbs also wouldn’t mind seeing some flashes of brilliance from star running back Clinton Portis, who has been a nonfactor in the first two games with 26 yards on nine rushes. Portis, a Miami native who will be playing in front of a large crowd of family and friends tonight, isn’t as concerned with the offense’s blase preseason stats as he is with the unit’s repeated mistakes.

“You don’t want to have any mental mistakes. You don’t want to have turnovers. You don’t want to have penalties,” Portis said. “Every game, you’re just trying to improve in those categories. Now if we do that, we’ll be fine.”

The Redskins’ defense has outplayed the offense to date, even with coach Gregg Williams refraining from showing too much in the exhibition season. Williams, the head coach last season in Buffalo, knows Miami coach Dave Wannstedt well and expects a tougher test from the Dolphins’ offense than he has seen so far.

“This will be another good steppingstone for this team,” Williams said. “Right now, we are taking baby steps. But we’re a long way away. We are improved from what we saw on film last year, but we have a long way to go. As good as we have done in stretches, we have to have a consistent 60 minutes of ball.”

To that end, Williams is likely to give his first-string defense more reps tonight (the unit has been on the field for just six total drives in two games). He’s also likely to give rookie safety Sean Taylor his first action against an opponent’s starting offense. Taylor, like Portis another Miami native returning home, probably won’t start but should find himself in the huddle before the end of the first quarter.

Williams has yet to have his full projected starting 11 on the field at the same time, and that won’t change tonight. Linebackers LaVar Arrington (sprained knee) and Mike Barrow (tendinitis in knee) did not make the trip to South Florida with the rest of the Redskins yesterday.

With so many injuries throughout training camp — defensive linemen Brandon Noble, Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels also have missed time, though all three will play tonight — the new-look Redskins defense has not had much opportunity to mesh.

“It’s going to take some time,” said Barrow, who has yet to play this preseason. “It’s a very complicated defense. We’ve got to get to the point where everybody knows it like the back of their hands.”

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