- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

FedEx Field should have more of a regular-season feel tonight when the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) call on the Washington Redskins (0-2).

Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington and regular tackle Brandon Noble will rejoin the Redskins’ defense for the first time since December. Star runner Clinton Portis is back after missing last week’s game. And coach Joe Gibbs could play his starters into the second half of the preseason game against the powerful Steelers.

With Washington having faced fearsome Carolina and improving Cincinnati before the Steelers, who are 18-2 since September, and with Thursday’s finale against a talented Baltimore team, Gibbs wonders why he put together such a tough preseason schedule.

“We certainly got dealt a tough hand,” the coach said. “I’d like to have had a couple shots where we would look really good before we got into the Pittsburghs, but we didn’t. Our preseason opponents would be rated some of the most physical teams in the league.”

The Steelers return every starter from the NFL’s top defense, posing a tough challenge for a Redskins offense that was inert in the scrimmage at Baltimore and humdrum in the preseason opener at Carolina before finally coming alive last week against Cincinnati with some big plays, if not enough points.

“If you make a lot of yards and turn the ball over, you don’t score points,” said Gibbs, whose team has lost four interceptions and three fumbles. “Maybe it’s good we get the lesson now. Last year we started off the season and turnovers were exactly what haunted us.”

Starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey’s three interceptions have dragged his passer rating to a dreadful 57.9 and had fans booing during the 24-17 loss to the Bengals. Ramsey’s task should be easier with the return of Portis, who carried just once at Carolina before sitting out last week with a bad elbow.

“We need to get Clinton some work,” Gibbs said. “There’s something to being hit and knocked around. Protecting the ball is very important, and the first time you get thrown in there it’s an eye-opener. We want to get Clinton in a groove.”

Portis would prefer to get in and out of there as soon as possible and watch Rock Cartwright try to hold off rookie Nehemiah Broughton for the third-string job.

“I really don’t think too many vets want to play in the preseason, but … you need to get a rhythm with your line,” said Portis, who has yet to run for real behind center Casey Rabach or right tackle Jon Jansen. “Whatever they call for me to take, I’ll take. If I get 10 [carries], I’ll take 10. If it’s more than that, I’ll get more than that. If I get less, I’ll appreciate it.”

Arrington, still a fan favorite despite missing most of 2004 with an ailing knee, will appreciate the roar of the crowd tonight.

“I’ve got a lot of faithful waiting on me,” Arrington said. “I’m excited about the opportunity for them to be able to see me get back out there.”

Although Warrick Holdman continues to start on the weak side, assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams said Arrington could see plenty of action if Pittsburgh plays the appropriate packages.

Washington’s defense, third in the league in 2004, has been solid this summer but has forced just one turnover.

“We’ve got to make more plays,” cornerback Shawn Springs said. “Last week when we had a lot of the guys back, the first unit played well, which was good, but there’s still a lot more that we can improve on. No matter who’s in there, we expect them to be dominant.”

Notes — Top draft pick Carlos Rogers will start again for Walt Harris (calf) at left corner. Kicker John Hall returned to work after missing Wednesday with the flu and should play. Tight end Robert Royal (shoulder), tackle Mark Wilson (back), punter Tom Tupa (back), safety Ryan Clark (knee) and receiver Taylor Jacobs (toe) won’t play.

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