- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

Gregg Williams detests using the word “starter” to describe any Washington Redskins defensive player. Make the roster and you’re a starter, says Williams, the assistant head coach-defense.

But for the sake of making the Redskins’ preseason game tonight against Cincinnati at FedEx Field remotely interesting, look at it as the opener for several starter-quality players.

Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, end Phillip Daniels and cornerbacks Shawn Springs and first-round draft pick Carlos Rogers sat out last week’s loss to Carolina but are expected to play against the Bengals as the defense slowly gets back to full health.

“The games are big because of the competition, but you build every day,” safety Matt Bowen said before spraining his right knee Wednesday. He is day to day. “I don’t think you can show up four times and be ready for the opener. It doesn’t work that way. The more guys we get out there and into practices and games, the better we’ll be.”

It has been like this for the Redskins’ defense: One player returns, and another gets injured. On Monday, for instance, Springs, Rogers, LaVar Arrington and Brandon Noble returned to the practice field, but Bowen, Ryan Clark and Walt Harris were lost to minor injuries during the week.

Arrington, Bowen, Clark, Harris and Noble are not expected to play tonight.

“It’s a long training camp, and it’s not something where we ever panic because it’s part of the game,” Williams said. “You deal with it during the season, too. It’s part of the process. We’ve been able to fit people in and keep things going.”

The Redskins gave up 28 points to Carolina last week, but Williams said the chance to see young players against the Panthers’ first two units was ideal.

“From an evaluation standpoint, we couldn’t have scripted it any better,” he said. “I always laugh and shake my head when people try to make an opinion on somebody that plays at the end of preseason games against somebody that won’t make an NFL team. You have to play against NFL-type players. We had a chance to move guys up and get them in those situations, and you’ll see it again [tonight].”

The Redskins have to reduce their roster to 65 players following next Friday’s game against Pittsburgh, so the fringe players have two more chances to make an impression.

On defense, that group includes rookie linebackers Robert McCune and Zak Keasey.

“Keasey and McCune were a couple kids who jumped up [last week] and will deserve more playing time this week,” Williams said.

Williams said the competition for roster spots is more intense this year.

“We’re going to have some interesting battles when it comes down to the final spots,” he said. “There are some really good battles going on right now, and it makes it difficult for the coaches to make decisions, which is good. At this time last year, there weren’t going to be a whole lot of surprises that would come out of training camp. The competition wasn’t as good as it needed to be.”

Coach Joe Gibbs has some of the same situations on offense, but the company line out of Redskin Park this week is that quarterback isn’t one of those issues.

Patrick Ramsey played into the second quarter last week, partly, Gibbs said, because the first-team offense was stuck in neutral and he wanted to see something positive before inserting the reserves.

“We’re going to keep working on not making the critical errors like he did on the fourth play last week,” quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave said. “You learn a lot more from a play like that than any touchdown. He’ll learn from it, and we want to keep progressing the next three weeks.”

The position battles on offense are almost entirely for reserve spots. An interesting competition is developing for the No. 3 running back position between Rock Cartwright and rookie Nehemiah Broughton. Cartwright had 61 all-purpose yards last week, while Broughton had 43 and a touchdown.

“The only thing I can control is my making plays,” Cartwright said. “I’m playing football and using this as an interview for 31 other teams, too. Right now, I’m a special teams guy, and making plays can maybe earn me a spot on the roster.”

Before Cartwright and Broughton get into the game, the Redskins’ first-team offense wants to improve on its showing against Carolina — no points in five drives. Right guard Randy Thomas insists the offense is making strides.

“You guys and the fans only look at the scoreboard,” he said. “You’re not in the film room. We’re making progress. We were better in the last game than we were in Baltimore. If you don’t get better, something ain’t right. We’re pros. That’s mandatory.”

But, Thomas added, “You can’t go out and not score like we did in the last game.”

Note — The Redskins signed rookie defensive back Charles Byrd yesterday. Byrd played collegiately at Morehead State, recording 184 tackles and 12 interceptions during his career.

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