- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

They looked fabulous a week earlier. They looked horrendous Friday night. Before that, they didn’t look like much of anything.

Fourteen days before the start of the NFL season, who knows what to expect from the Washington Redskins.

Will coach Joe Gibbs’ team resemble the one that kicked around the Miami Dolphins to the tune of 181 rushing yards in a convincing 17-0 victory?

Or will it perform like the one that allowed 435 net yards in a frustrating 28-3 trouncing by the St. Louis Rams?

Not even Gibbs knows.

“I think it’s obvious we’re the kind of team that probably has a good chance of beating almost everybody and probably anybody will have a chance to beat us,” he said yesterday after studying film of the debacle in St. Louis. “So it’s going to be how well we play, how excited we are about it, how smart we are. That’s kind of how this thing will probably turn this year.”

In essence, Gibbs is saying the Redskins (2-2 in the preseason) have enough talent to win games but not enough to overcome a lack of effort.

Effort appeared to be in short supply at the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams ran circles around a staggering Washington team. Gibbs was visibly upset with his team’s performance immediately afterward. He was in better spirits yesterday but still unsatisfied.

“We had mistakes. We had penalties. We killed ourselves,” he said. “It just didn’t look like the same performance [from previous games] by both our defense and our offense. It was all of us together, starting with me and going on right down the list. It was disappointing.”

It didn’t help matters that for the fourth straight week, the Redskins were without a host of starters on both offense and defense.

Right guard Randy Thomas, who strained his neck lifting weights last week, sat out Friday’s game. Right tackle Jon Jansen already had been lost to a season-ending Achilles’ tendon rupture. Left tackle Chris Samuels played less than one quarter against the Rams after spraining his ankle.

Despite the initial scare — and the prospect of opening the season without both starting tackles — Samuels appears to be OK. X-rays taken at the stadium came back negative, and yesterday the two-time Pro Bowl lineman reiterated that he intends to be back on the field for the Sept.12 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s sore, but I’m confident I’ll be ready to play soon,” said Samuels, who was wearing a protective boot on his right foot. “I’m sure I’ll be out there against Tampa.”

Washington’s defense struggled through its worst performance of the preseason in St. Louis, but that unit also was filled with second-stringers. Nose tackle Brandon Noble (arm), right end Phillip Daniels (abdomen), linebackers LaVar Arrington (knee) and Michael Barrow (knee), plus strong safety Matt Bowen (no injury) went off during the first quarter as the coaches sought to evaluate a number of reserves against an opponent’s first-string offense.

The results weren’t always pretty — Rams quarterbacks Marc Bulger and Chris Chandler threw for 268 yards, 143 of them to receiver Torry Holt. But Redskins assistant coach for defense Gregg Williams walked away having learned a thing or two about backups like right end Ron Warner, linebacker Lemar Marshall and cornerback Ralph Brown.

“We tried to make sure our young guys got as many snaps as possible,” Williams said. “The guys who are [second-stringers] and [third-stringers] in this league, I don’t want to see them competing against seconds and thirds. I want to see them against Holt and [Isaac] Bruce and those guys. That’s the way you find out whether your team has improved or not.”

The Redskins hope their starting defense looks more like the finished product at Friday’s preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field. Gibbs said he hopes both Arrington and Barrow, who has yet to play in the preseason, will be cleared to practice this week.

As September approaches, Washington is transitioning into regular-season mode. Gibbs yesterday ran his players through a light, 30-minute workout after the film session — the same routine he plans to implement on Mondays when the season begins.

The Redskins’ roster also will begin to have a regular-season look once the first round of cuts are made today. Gibbs plans to release 14 players, bringing his roster down to 76 (adhering to the league maximum of 65, plus 11 exemptions for those who played in NFL Europe this spring).

But what about those who remain? By Sept.12, which team will they be playing for: the efficient, smart one that routed Miami or the sloppy, confused bunch that was embarrassed by St. Louis?

“We know that we’re capable of playing really well when everyone’s on the same page and we’re playing well mentally,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “We definitely have the talent. But we’ve got to come out and do it. Talking about it is one thing. Actually going out there and doing it is another. But if we show up and everybody’s on the same page, then we’re going to have a great team.”

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