- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

Defense might win championships, but offense packs stadiums. More than 45,000 Redskins fans came out to Landover on a gorgeous summer Saturday expecting to see the new and improved Washington offense directed by Al Saunders and featuring dazzling imported wideouts Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd.

Instead, Saunders and coach Joe Gibbs gave the devoted faithful a rerun of the languid summer of 2005 as second-teamers Taylor Jacobs, Jimmy Farris, Nehemiah Broughton and Co. matched up with Baltimore’s starting defense in yesterday’s controlled scrimmage.

It’s quite possible all three of those players will be gone soon after the teams meet again in the preseason finale on Aug. 31, but even in a scrimmage, Gibbs was thinking long-term.

“We wanted to spend most of the time looking at some guys we felt could make a real move to make the team,” Gibbs said. “We need to get as much film on them as we can. As we start preseason [next Sunday at Cincinnati], you’re going to be putting your best out there for a while. You kinda went through the first week and say to yourself, ‘What can we do to get the most out of the scrimmage?’”

While quarterback Mark Brunell, tight end Chris Cooley and receiver Santana Moss all looked good in the linemen-less 7-on-7 drills, the decision to let them watch their backups from the sidelines was fine with the starters, if surprising.

“Coach said, ‘You’ve had enough’ and I’m not going to argue with that,” Moss said.

Added left guard Derrick Dockery: “We did a good job in practice this week. I guess he wanted to save our legs.”

So while fans were treated to the umpteenth exhibition of Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington’s athleticism and exuberance after he intercepted a Steve McNair pass, as well as safety Sean Taylor’s ability to deal out jarring hits, the Redskins’ defensive excellence is as expected as 90-degree days in August.

And yet defensive boss Gregg Williams put his top available talent out there against the Ravens’ starters at all but two spots.

If Gibbs loves the fans as much as he always maintains, he would’ve given them the same taste of his regulars as Williams did.

Winning is what the NFL is all about. But would one series for Brunell, Moss and the rest of the starters yesterday at all distracted the Redskins from Mission: Miami?

So for those Redskins followers who didn’t make it to Ashburn for any of last week’s open practices, here’s what you might have seen if the offensive starters had matched up with the Ravens’ defenders.

Brunell has been fine while Jason Campbell has looked better than veteran backup Todd Collins in the battle to be No. 2.

Moss, the team’s MVP of 2005, has continued his stellar play while Lloyd’s acrobatics and Randle El’s superb hands have been as promised. Despite the newfound riches outside, Saunders, who helped make Tony Gonzalez the top tight end in Kansas City, won’t ignore Cooley or running back Clinton Portis, who’s on top of his game.

Right guard Randy Thomas, coming off a broken ankle, has been the sharpest of the starting linemen, who collectively are the healthiest they’ve been since before the start of last season.

With Lloyd virtually certain to start opposite Moss, and with Randle El destined to play almost as much as the slot receiver, there are really no battles to be settled among the regulars. But that’s also true on defense where Warrick Holdman seems sure to start at weak side linebacker ahead of rookie Rocky McIntosh. And flashy new defensive end Andre Carter has put Renaldo Wynn on the bench.

The fans still enjoyed themselves yesterday, but the show would’ve been superior if the understudies hasn’t been center stage.

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