- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Quarterbacks

Patrick Ramsey, named the starter by coach Joe Gibbs when last season ended, didn’t do much this summer to cement his hold on the job. Veteran Mark Brunell, seemingly history when he was benched last November, has resurrected his career. Gibbs didn’t trade three high draft choices this spring for the right to take Jason Campbell without intending to play him soon. So Ramsey is on a very short leash.

Running backs

Clinton Portis ran for 1,315 yards but didn’t perform up to his previous standards in his debut season with the Redskins last year. Gibbs has vowed to open up the offense to take better advantage of Portis’ quickness, and that concept worked in its limited preseason look. Ladell Betts is a solid backup. Holdover third-stringer Rock Cartwright and rookie Nehemiah Broughton both have more heart than height.

Receivers

Former starters Rod Gardner and Laveranues Coles were traded and replaced by faster but smaller newcomers Santana Moss and David Patten, who each averaged better than 18 yards a catch last year. Oft-injured Taylor Jacobs has more potential than production. James Thrash is a reliable possession type. They’re all 6 feet or under.

Tight ends

H-back Chris Cooley showed terrific hands and a nose for the end zone with six touchdowns among his 37 catches as a rookie in 2004. He’s Ramsey’s favorite safety valve. Starting tight end Robert Royal has yet to distinguish himself. Backup blocker Mike Sellers is a special teams force.

Offensive line

This should be the Redskins’ strength. Stalwart right tackle Jon Jansen, hurt all last season, is healthy again. Center Casey Rabach is an upgrade on predecessor Cory Raymer. Left tackle Chris Samuels bounced back from a subpar 2003. Right guard Randy Thomas has vowed a similar revival. Young left guard Derrick Dockery needs to be more consistent. Ray Brown, 42, is the top reserve tackle and guard.

Defensive line

Assistant coach Greg Blache deserved a serious raise after coaxing stout play from such a nondescript group in 2004. The return to health of right end Phillip Daniels should help, but the cast is otherwise unchanged. Left tackle Cornelius Griffin should have gone to the Pro Bowl last season, his first as a Redskin. Left end Renaldo Wynn and right tackles Joe Salave’a and Brandon Noble are run-stoppers.

Linebackers

Despite losing top tackler Antonio Pierce to free agency, this unit could be better if: LaVar Arrington recaptures his weak side job from fill-in Warrick Holdman after missing most of 2004; and Lemar Marshall, who took over for Arrington last year, does as well replacing Pierce inside. Marcus Washington went to the Pro Bowl on the strong side in 2004. Reserve Chris Clemons had three sacks in limited playing time as a rookie.

Cornerbacks

Shawn Springs handled the challenge of replacing Champ Bailey last year like a pro and played at a Pro Bowl level. Walt Harris, the nickel corner in 2004, doesn’t have the flash or trash (talk) of predecessor Fred Smoot, but he’s a capable replacement if healthy. Top draft pick Carlos Rogers, who inherits Harris’ old role, already is a favorite of defensive boss Gregg Williams.

Safeties

Sean Taylor, last year’s top pick, is a dynamic athlete and, at 22, will only get better. But Taylor, who has had way too many problems off the field, badly needs to mature. Assuming Taylor’s trial is postponed until the offseason, he’ll line up next to one of three players who have started for Williams: holdovers Matt Bowen and Ryan Clark and newcomer Pierson Prioleau.

Special teams

John Hall, a reliable kicker in his first seven years, is back on track after last year’s run of leg injuries. Unproven Andy Groom won the punting job after 39-year-old Tom Tupa’s back gave out in August. Groom also holds. Snapper Ethan Albright is like a machine. Tiny and elusive Antonio Brown is the new No. 1 return specialist with Moss, Thrash and Betts also slated to see some duty.

- David Elfin

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