- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor’s role remained in flux yesterday as the reason for his benching Sunday became clear.

Taylor didn’t start in the 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite dominating much of the preseason. A team source said the rookie’s activity was trimmed because he hadn’t appeared as focused or effective in practice recently.

It remained unclear whether Taylor, the draft’s fifth selection overall, would regain his starting role this weekend against the New York Giants.

“It’ll probably be Wednesday or Thursday when we see what all the packages look like,” coach Joe Gibbs said.

In the preseason, Taylor recorded an NFL-leading three interceptions and forced two fumbles, earning starts in the final three exhibitions. His ballhawking instinct and range made it seem like he was in on virtually every play.

But Sunday, Taylor was put in only a few defensive packages. His first action on defense didn’t come until the second quarter, and on his first play he nearly allowed a touchdown pass to Bucs receiver Joey Galloway. Taylor settled down from there but ended up with just one assisted tackle.

On the sideline, teammates like cornerback Fred Smoot could be seen encouraging the obviously dejected rookie.

“Like I told him the other day, even [Atlanta Falcons star] Michael Vick rode the bench his first year,” Smoot said. “When coaches feel you’re ready, they’re going to put you in at the right time. Basically I just tried to keep his head up, let him know that he’s going to be a star in this league.”

Always reticent to speak to the media, Taylor declined comment. But teammates spoke optimistically about how his setback might play out.

“I think Sean’s going to be fine,” safety Matt Bowen said. “You’ve got to understand that Sean’s very young. He’s learning each day. Every day he’s been here, he’s gotten better. The guy’s a phenomenal athlete to start out with, and the way he’s starting to study and learn more every day, he’s going to be unstoppable.”

Pierce’s statement

Sunday’s outstanding performance by linebacker Antonio Pierce raised an obvious question: Will he still be the starter when veteran Mike Barrow’s knee tendinitis heals?

“[Pierce is] a guy that we’ve got to have in the game,” Gibbs said. “Now where is [that position] going to be when Micheal gets back? I think we’ll just have to make a good decision on defense. But he’s somebody who has to be playing all the time.”

For now, the issue appears to be moot. Gibbs said Barrow “didn’t do anything” in yesterday’s brief practice and added regarding the linebacker’s status, “It’s about the way it was last week.”

Barrow, 34, hasn’t played in a game for the Redskins since aggravating his knee in the first week of training camp. He stretched on the field before the Bucs game but was made inactive.

D. Hixon critical

Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon remained in Tampa tending to his son, Drew, who was in a medically induced coma following a helmet-to-helmet hit Saturday.

Drew Hixon, a senior wide receiver for Tennessee Tech, was knocked unconscious in a game at South Florida. Tennessee Tech said in a statement that Drew Hixon was in critical condition in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“I would just appeal to everybody out there to just be in prayer,” Gibbs said.

Extra points

Coaches named two players of the week — Bowen and running back Clinton Portis. Gibbs, who gives up his parking space to the player of the week, joked, “We’re going to have to expand our parking lot.” …

Gibbs attributed Sunday’s three botched snaps to a slick ball, a bad exchange and quarterback Mark Brunell tripping over the center, respectively.

Center Lennie Friedman doesn’t conduct interviews but acknowledged in an informal conversation that he was responsible for the first two errors. Cory Raymer replaced Friedman for two plays but was promptly removed after he tripped Brunell.

“It’s something of real importance to us,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to add a couple things as far as practice and try and see if we can’t get to the bottom of it.” …

The Redskins announced “Yards for Youth,” a charity in which donors pledge a specific dollar amount for each offensive yard the team gains this season. Contact: www.yardsforyouth.org or 703/726-7211.

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