- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

The Washington Redskins are back in a familiar place in the defensive rankings: right around the top.

Yesterday’s NFL statistics had Washington No.4 in total defense at just 248.7 yards a game. Under first-year assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, the Redskins seem headed back to a realm they occupied in 2000 under Ray Rhodes (No.4), in 2001 under Kurt Schottenheimer (No.10) and in 2002 under Marvin Lewis (No.5).

Of course, the current rankings are only preseason. The Redskins have played three exhibitions, including Saturday night’s 17-0 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins, who gained just 98 yards at Pro Player Stadium. But with defenders attacking the backfield and flying to the ball, it’s seems unlikely last year’s stumble under George Edwards (No.25) will be repeated.

“Right now, our first three games, probably the most encouraging thing about our team has been that defense,” coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. “That’s something you can really build around. If we can continue to do that, if we can play that way, you love to see that.”

Washington’s defensive coordinator post has been a revolving door the past six years, though from 2000 to 2002 the unit maintained a high level of play. The streak finally ended last season, when a lack of talent on the line, Edwards’ inexperience and a team-wide implosion under coach Steve Spurrier resulted in a unit that could neither stop the run nor rush the passer.

Now with Williams’ aggressive scheme and some key personnel additions in place, the Redskins are flashing promise. Already rookie safety Sean Taylor and new linebacker Marcus Washington look like budding stars. And the unit hasn’t even had all its starting personnel on the field at the same time, in large part because of injuries.

Saturday’s performance netted the first preseason shutout of the Dolphins since 1997. And by holding Miami to one of 12 third-down conversions, the Redskins improved to second in NFL in that category (19.1 percent).

Balancing any excitement, though, is the fact that it’s still the preseason. Plus, the Dolphins might be in the express lane to the AFC East cellar.

“A lot of people were saying a lot of good things about how we’ve improved defensively,” Williams said. “We still haven’t won a regular season game. It’s preseason. No one will remember it once this is over. [Our defenders] are playing faster and harder, but not near fast enough and not near hard enough — yet.”

Taylor, despite another fine effort, will have plenty to review today when he watches tape with the defensive staff. His performance included three tackles and a forced and recovered fumble, but Williams also saw a number of small errors.

The plan is to start Taylor again this week, but Williams noted, “He’s got a lot of improvement he has yet to do for me to have confidence trotting him out on opening day.”

“Right now he’s just so gifted, he bails himself out of a mistake that a cagey quarterback, a vet quarterback, is going to make him pay. But he’s fun to coach.”

The Redskins have an outside chance of seeing their full defense Friday at St. Louis. Linebackers Mike Barrow and LaVar Arrington, who didn’t travel to Miami because of knee injuries, will be evaluated today and could return to practice this week. Arrington’s injury, a mild sprain, isn’t considered serious.

Defensive end Phillip Daniels, whose abdomen strain has kept him out of the first three exhibitions, also continues to progress. Williams is particularly excited to see Daniels in a game, saying, “We’re a lot different when he’s in there. We’ve made some improvements, but I think we’re significantly better when he’s on the field.”

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