The fourth game of a team’s NFL preseason is usually virtually meaningless for all but the players on the bubble. The starters play a couple of series with one major mission: don’t get hurt.
Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and his offensive boss, Al Saunders, followed that script last night in Jacksonville. They played their starters, including quarterback Jason Campbell — returning from a knee injury that sidelined him last week — for one series, and all 11 walked off the field healthy.
Of course, Clinton Portis, who has been allergic to preseason play since he separated his left shoulder last August in Cincinnati, opted to rest his knee until the season opener against Miami on Sept. 9. It has been so long since Portis played that it seems like Ladell Betts is the No. 1 back anyway.
Campbell was 5-for-5 for 54 yards with a pretty touchdown to wideout Antwaan Randle El.
Two plays earlier, Campbell was slow to get up after he was hit by 295-pound defensive lineman Walter Curry. It has to be noted Curry didn’t beat rookie free agent left tackle Stephon Heyer. Rather, the unknown first-year man from Albany State beat veteran right tackle Jon Jansen, who did not play well this summer.
One caveat about the eight-play, 70-yard scoring march: It came against backups. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio joined Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams in resting his regulars. Only second-year tackle Kedric Golston was in his usual spot on the Washington defense. Right tackle Tony Pashos was the only Jaguars starter to play.
Yes, Williams doesn’t have a position battle to settle, but has he forgotten that seven of his healthy starters — strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington was still recovering from a dislocated elbow — were part of the NFC’s worst defense of 2006? Did rookie safety LaRon Landry and second-year weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh really need the night off with two combined regular-season starts on their resumes? Are cornerback Shawn Springs and tackle Cornelius Griffin so ready for the regular season that they were each scratched from a second preseason game?
Maybe shutting down Jacksonville’s offensive second-teamers wouldn’t have proved anything, but a unit that crashed from the top 10 in 2004 and 2005 to the dregs last year can use all the confidence it can get. The process of integrating Landry, McIntosh and new middle linebacker London Fletcher into the defense’s chemistry certainly could have used a series or two in the North Florida heat and humidity.
What to make of the Redskins who did play last night?
Long shot receiver Ryan Hoag, who nearly pulled out the Pittsburgh game Aug. 18 with a late 36-yard catch, hauled in a 14-yard touchdown from one-time Jaguars hero Mark Brunell to put the Redskins up 14-3 in the second quarter. The Redskins are looking for a fifth receiver. Could it be Hoag, who’s still looking to make his NFL debut four years after Oakland took him in the seventh round?
Veteran cornerback David Macklin ended a Jaguars possession with a 10-yard sack of David Garrard and broke up a pass in the end zone for Mike Walker. However, Macklin also gave up enough completions to summon memories of lamentable 2006 corners Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph. Byron Westbrook, formerly of DeMatha, fared even worse, failing to wrap up Reggie Williams and giving up a 40-yard touchdown.
Another local product, running back Marcus Mason from Georgetown Prep, likely secured at least a practice squad spot with 54 yards, including a 25-yard jaunt, on 12 carries.
Rookie quarterback Jordan Palmer, the only healthy Redskins player who had yet to appear in preseason, finally got on the field. Palmer’s interception for a touchdown, dropped snap, delay of game penalty and inaccurate passing summed up a night that will be best forgotten as soon as possible.