- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2007

After a horrendous preseason led to an ugly season in 2006, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs decided to take this August’s games more seriously. To some degree, the strategy worked.

Washington went 0-4 and was outscored 104-27 last preseason. This preseason’s more serious approach produced a 2-2 record, and the Redskins were outscored 56-51.

“Last year we had a cockiness that we shouldn’t have had,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said after Washington’s backups turned a 14-3 lead into a 31-14 loss in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Jacksonville. “We didn’t put the glue together like we should have and it hurt us. This year, it will be much different. The way we approached preseason was so much different. Preseason mattered.”

The feeling was similar on the other side of the ball. The starting defense, which ranked ninth in the NFL in 2005 but tumbled to 31st last season, allowed just 13 points on 15 series this preseason.

“We’ve come a long way with the physicality we always talk about and just being fast, getting back to Redskins football,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “We had four big, challenges in the preseason games. Every game was physical. That’s what we wanted and we stood up to the challenge. We played up our standards in the first half of the games this preseason. That’s a big difference from last season.”

The offense, which ranked 13th in the league last season, didn’t have to make as many strides this summer and didn’t. The starters scored only 20 points on their 16 series and there’s some uneasiness that Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and No. 1 running back Clinton Portis didn’t play a snap because of knee injuries and new left guard Pete Kendall played only one series after being acquired on Aug. 23 from the New York Jets.

“I don’t think it hurt us as much as people would expect,” Randle El said of the absence of Samuels and Portis, who are expected to start the Sept. 9 season opener against Miami. “We’ve got a couple of things … to get cleaned up [namely a running game that averaged just 2.7 yards a carry] but other than that, I think we’re ready.”

That’s questionable considering that the Dolphins had the fourth-ranked defense in 2006, but ninth-year right tackle Jon Jansen, the senior player on the team, isn’t worried about the doubters.

“People are going to say what they want to say,” Jansen said. “Preseason’s over. After Miami, then let’s talk.”

Any talk of trading quarterback Mark Brunell and keeping Jordan Palmer should have ended with the rookie’s atrocious preseason debut (2-for-8, 10 yards, a dropped snap and an interception that was returned for a touchdown) in Jacksonville. Palmer should be one of 22 players cut today as the Redskins reach the regular season 53-man roster limit.

“The first game didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but all I can ask for is an opportunity,” said Palmer, younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. “Hopefully, I’ll get more.”

Palmer might not even be part of the eight-man practice squad, but undrafted rookie running back Marcus Mason should be after leading the team with 96 yards and a 3.8-yard average this summer while scoring one of the offense’s four touchdowns. With veteran back Derrick Blaylock placed on injured reserve on Thursday, Mason might make the team.

“I showed them everything that I could possibly give,” said Mason, who starred at Georgetown Prep. “I hoped that helped.”

Ryan Hoag, one of four receivers fighting for a fifth spot at that position, helped himself with two catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. The latter came on a 14-yard pass from Brunell on Thursday.

“I’m hopeful, but I’ve learned after being cut nine times [since being drafted by Oakland in 2003] to always expect the unexpected,” Hoag said. “I can rest a little easier knowing that I made plays on the two balls that were thrown to me. Before preseason started, I was sitting at maybe No. 11 on the depth chart. As time went on … there were more opportunities and I started stepping up.”

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