- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

Nick Novak better be ready to live up to the “Nick At Night” reputation he earned at Maryland.

The undrafted rookie is all but certain to make his NFL debut for the Washington Redskins tomorrow on “Monday Night Football” after veteran kicker John Hall was unable to kick in practice again yesterday because of an injured quadriceps.

“I think it would be hard for John to kick [in Dallas] since he didn’t do much all week,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.

Novak, who finished his preseason with the Cowboys, has a holder — punter Andy Groom — with just one game of NFL experience.

Groom, who made the team after failing in training camp trials with Tampa Bay in 2003 and San Francisco in 2004, wasn’t happy with his debut in the Week1 win against Chicago. He averaged 37.7 yards on his three punts (13th in the NFC) and 32.0 net (12th).

“I didn’t punt the way I wanted to,” Groom said. “The first one was good, but we had to re-punt [because of a penalty] and I didn’t hit that one very well. I didn’t hit the second one that well and [special teams coach] Danny Smith told me to kick the last one in the end zone because he knew they were going to come after me. But I got my jitters out and now I’m ready for ‘Monday Night Football.’”

The kicking game isn’t the only special teams area where the Redskins are inexperienced. They overhauled their return game with James Thrash returning punts and sharing kickoff return duties with Ladell Betts.

That’s how the Redskins were aligned on returns in Weeks 8-13 in 2004 after Chad Morton was hurt and before Antonio Brown was activated. Morton is now with the New York Giants, and Brown was cut Tuesday after fumbling the second-half kickoff two days earlier.

Betts’ 25-yard kickoff return in the third quarter against the Bears was his first, including preseason, since last Dec.26 in Dallas. He averaged 23 yards as Washington’s top return man in 2004.

Betts also carried 12 times for 41 yards in the opener as the Redskins showed they’re serious about not wearing out starting running back Clinton Portis, who had 343 carries in 15 games in 2004. Betts averaged only four carries in those games as Portis’ caddie.

“Twelve carries was a little more than I expected, but Coach Gibbs had told Clinton that he didn’t want him to get tired, so whenever he got a little winded I stepped in,” Betts said.

Beat Dallas

Portis drove an equipment cart carrying five of his teammates back to the locker room after practice, chanting “Beat Dallas” the whole way up the hill — and Portis has experienced losing just once in Dallas. Teammates Jon Jansen, Cory Raymer, Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington are 0-5 at Texas Stadium.

The only Redskins player who has won in Dallas while wearing a Washington uniform is offensive lineman Ray Brown, who started at left guard when the Redskins upset the eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys 24-17 on Dec.3, 1995.

However, Brown, 42, didn’t play in last week’s win over Chicago. He hadn’t missed a game since being sidelined with a sprained foot for San Francisco in 1997 and hadn’t missed a game when healthy since he first joined the Redskins in 1989.

“Has it been that long?” said Brown, who started 14 games last season when Kenyatta Jones was found wanting as the injured Jansen’s replacement. “My wife was a little shook by my not playing, but I was fine with it. I’m ready just in case. I’ve got my fire hat on.”

Breaking in

Only two rookies made their debuts for the Redskins in the opener: cornerback Carlos Rogers, the ninth pick in April’s draft, and linebacker Zak Keasey, who went undrafted and was only invited to Washington’s post-draft minicamp on a tryout basis.

“I had a lot of fun,” said the Princeton alum who played on special teams against the Bears. “And now after watching ‘Monday Night Football’ all those years, to have a chance to play in one of those games is unbelievable.”

Good to go

Offensive tackle Jon Jansen (thumbs), safety Ryan Clark (knee) and linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring) all practiced again and will be available tomorrow.

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