- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell didn’t need long to demonstrate the progress that coach Joe Gibbs was seeking.

After being named the regular-season starter earlier this week, Brunell completed four of six passes for 51 yards in last night’s 27-0 preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The veteran passer guided Washington to a touchdown in his only series, then headed to the bench to rest up for the Sept.12 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The performance matched the best of Brunell’s play in the previous four exhibitions, when he shined only occasionally while battling Patrick Ramsey for the starting job. Last night Gibbs specifically wanted to see Brunell develop some timing with his receivers, and that’s exactly what happened.

Gibbs, who doesn’t predetermine playing time in the preseason, saw enough to pull Brunell after just one series. Afterward, Brunell said the offense “absolutely” moved forward.

“We put some new things in there this week,” Brunell said. “We executed them. This preseason has been a process of staying very vanilla, but as the games have gone on, we’ve [used] different formations, different plays. It’s gone real well for us.”

None of Brunell’s throws was outstanding, and, in fact, he put too much air under a couple of them. But he did a nice job of spotting and getting the ball to open receivers, then letting them make plays to gain yards.

Two instances stood out. On the first, Brunell threw a quick pass to wide receiver Laveranues Coles in the right flat. Coles shook the cornerback and wasn’t run out of bounds until he had picked up 19 yards. Four plays later, Brunell hit rookie H-back Chris Cooley, who shed linebacker Keith Brooking and bowled over safety Cory Hall for a 10-yard gain.

Generally speaking, the performance demonstrated — as did Brunell’s play in the Aug.21 win at Miami — that he remains capable of being an efficient passer. With running back Clinton Portis shouldering much of the load this season, that might be enough.

“You just try to be smart,” Brunell said. “Efficiency is being smart — making good decisions, protecting the ball, not turning it over and completing it. Sometimes it means throwing it away. Sometimes it means just getting on to the next play. That’s how you do it, particularly in this system. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

S. Taylor injured

Rookie Sean Taylor went down in the second quarter after taking a helmet to his right knee. Team officials said the free safety, the draft’s fifth pick overall, suffered only a thigh bruise.

Taylor was limping badly as he left the field, but the team did not seem particularly concerned after the game. Taylor was not available for comment in the locker room.

Among others getting nicked was linebacker LaVar Arrington, who went to the locker room late in the second quarter after suffering a stinger. An X-ray showed no significant injury. Cornerback Rashad Bauman suffered an ankle injury in a third-quarter scrum, but he recovered quickly and returned to the field.

Molinaro, Cooley start

Two draft picks joined the starting lineup. One, Jim Molinaro, filled in for injured left tackle Chris Samuels, who is expected to return for the Bucs game. The other, Cooley, put on a nice show at H-back, but his place on the depth chart remains uncertain.

Molinaro, a sixth-round draft pick out of Penn State, held up well in one series against Falcons right defensive end Brady Smith, who had four sacks in 2003. Smith made it into the backfield to bat down one of Brunell’s passes but otherwise was held at bay. Molinaro also had a key block on Ladell Betts’ second touchdown run.

“I had some big shoes to fill in there, especially being a rookie,” Molinaro said. “I did some good things. I did some things I need to improve on. Overall, I think I improved this preseason, every game.”

Cooley, a third-round selection out of Utah State, caught two passes for 21 yards but might not start ahead of veteran Mike Sellers next week. Cooley’s most impressive play was his second catch — the aforementioned one in which he shook free of Brooking and laid a shoulder into Hall, much to the delight of the FedEx Field crowd.

“I feel comfortable when I have the ball,” Cooley said. “I had a good opportunity there to run somebody over, and it felt really good.”

Extra points

Injuries kept two running backs, John Simon (shoulder) and Rock Cartwright (stinger), from making a final statement in one of the summer’s highly scrutinized battles. While Betts (nine carries for 27 yards and two touchdowns) seemed to clinch a roster spot, Simon, Cartwright and Sultan McCullough (23 for 75) appear to be competing for one spot. …

Defensive end Phillip Daniels played for the first time this preseason but didn’t make any plays of consequence as the Falcons’ starting offense struggled badly. Daniels, the projected starter on the right side, missed the first four exhibitions with an abdomen strain. …

Nose tackle Brandon Noble played in a reserve role for a second straight game, easing the strain on his sore knee and broken hand. He participated in three series in the second quarter and later said his knee is making progress. He expects to shed the massive cast on his hand for the Bucs game. …

Redskins not dressing for last night’s game were tight end Fred Baxter (knee), linebacker Mike Barrow (knee), linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring) and right guard Randy Thomas (neck). Barrow did not play in any of Washington’s five exhibitions. Thomas was replaced for a second straight week by 41-year-old Ray Brown.

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