- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

A week’s worth of gradual progress crested yesterday as quarterback Mark Brunell took the majority of snaps in practice and was named the Washington Redskins’ starter for tomorrow night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.

Brunell’s hamstring, strained in the third quarter of last weekend’s loss to the New York Giants, improved a bit each day this week. He returned to full-squad drills Friday and felt good enough afterward that coach Joe Gibbs allowed him to take two-thirds of yesterday’s snaps.

Following practice, Gibbs announced Brunell would start ahead of Patrick Ramsey, saying, “[He] looked good, so we’ll start Mark.”

Meanwhile, linebackers coach Dale Lindsey pretty much ruled out linebacker Mike Barrow, whose Redskins debut might have lessened the impact of Lavar Arrington’s absence.

Arrington underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday to repair a torn meniscus and is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. Barrow, who revealed Friday he has a tendon tear, once again practiced fairly extensively this week but, according to Lindsey, “twinged” his knee in yesterday’s workout.

“We’ll probably still look at it, but I don’t think it looks good right now,” Lindsey said. “It’s similar to last week. I don’t think he’s quite where he wants to be. It’s still too early in the season for us to take a chance and ruin the whole year for him. If we can salvage half to three-quarters of the season, we’ll be in great shape.”

Brunell shouldn’t be any more susceptible to a hamstring injury tomorrow than normal, according to Gibbs. In addition, the coach expects that, despite a week of reduced activity, Brunell is ready to run the offense.

“I think he feels comfortable with it,” Gibbs said. “We gave him most of the work today. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go.”

Said Brunell: “You’d like to get every rep. You really would. I got a little more reps today. I studied the game plan, watched a lot of film. … I’ll certainly be ready.”

Brunell’s status didn’t come as a surprise. He spoke with increasing optimism as the week progressed, and by Friday it was clear he was starting to think as though he would play. Yesterday he conceded there’s “a little bit” of lingering soreness but nothing too concerning.

“Each day it’s gotten a little better, as I expected it to,” Brunell said. “So I’m pleased.”

Gibbs emphasized that the delay in naming a starter had nothing to do with keeping a secret from the Cowboys.

“Really and truly, what I’ve tried to do is go through honestly what happened this week,” Gibbs said. “We did the best we could each day and tried to keep everybody apprised of what was going on. It wasn’t to hide somebody. We were honestly going through it.”

Brunell, despite two turnovers against the Giants, likely gives the Redskins a steadier presence at quarterback. Ramsey didn’t look comfortable with the offense in the preseason and threw three interceptions against the Giants. Although he also made several big throws last weekend, it might be too early to rely on the three-year pro.

Still, it remains unclear whether Brunell can inject some consistency into Gibbs’ offense. The unit has gone through long barren stretches in each of the first two games, and the Redskins clearly could have won last week if not for their seven turnovers.

The Cowboys present an intriguing challenge. Their defense is among the NFL’s swiftest, and in last year’s first meeting Dallas simply blitzed Redskins coach Steve Spurrier into submission.

This offseason, whenever Gibbs was asked about the NFL’s schematic changes from his first stint (1981 to 1992), he always mentioned the Cowboys defense, which last season finished No.1 in the league.

“They come after you,” Gibbs said yesterday. “They’re going to force the issue. That’s their style of play. You’ve got to count on them playing that way. Could they change things? Yeah. But I think [they’ll choose] the same style of play that got them to where they were last year.”

That said, Redskins players seem fairly confident that Gibbs’ protection-first design will prevent another Cowboys jailbreak.

“They’ve got an extensive blitz package, but I think it’s been talked about a lot considering the type of protection schemes the Redskins had last year, they were susceptible to having some guys come free,” Brunell said. “We’re a little different these days.”

Notes — Kicker John Hall should be fine to face the Cowboys after rehabbing a pair of strained hamstrings, Gibbs said. … Veteran offensive lineman Ray Brown was back as a reserve in practice this week but still could be named to start ahead of right tackle Kenyatta Jones. Jones, who is battling bone chips in his ankle, wasn’t demoted last week until the day before the Giants game.

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