- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ah, summer. A time for kicking back and enjoying the good life. And what could be better than five weeks under the blazing sun in Ashburn watching zany Jim Zorn and his Redskins prepare for this season?

Life was good at Redskin Park during training camp - no rookies holding out, no veterans pouting about their roles. The loss of defensive end Phillip Daniels to a season-ending knee injury was a shock, to be sure. But that jolt turned to joy hours later with the acquisition of the younger and more accomplished Jason Taylor.

Even a seeming torrent of ailments didn’t include anything major. Add to that a 3-0 start in preseason, and Zorn already made a few folks forget the name of that Hall of Fame coach who preceded him.

Then came the Carolina Panthers.

The Redskins‘ starters saw their most extensive action of preseason, and the results weren’t pretty.

The offensive line sprang more leaks than the Nats’ bullpen, the defense tackled like a bunch of underage Chinese gymnasts, and Taylor went down with what seemed to be a serious knee injury.

With the season opener at the defending champion New York Giants just 12 days away, the 47-3 wipeout by the Panthers took Zorn from hero to zero faster than Scott Norwood.

Q: I appreciate the little review for those of us who were focused on Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and the rest of the Beijing bonanza. Should I believe in the Redskins who whipped the Colts and beat the Bills and Jets or the impostors who imploded in Charlotte?

A: Preseason records usually don’t mean much - the Redskins won Super Bowls after going 0-4 and 1-3 in the preseason. Their best season of recent years followed a 1-3 August.

But the performance of the starters in those games can reveal flaws. That certainly was the case when the Redskins got destroyed 41-0 by the Patriots in the next-to-last preseason game of 2006 - they finished 5-11 that year.

So the letdown on both sides of the ball against the Panthers was troubling.

Q: What was the best news during camp?

A: Cornerback Carlos Rogers returned two months earlier than expected from reconstructive knee surgery. Running back Clinton “Who Needs Preseason?” Portis made it unscathed through 15 carries in August.

Q: What was the worst news?

A: Free safety LaRon Landry, only 23, missed a month with a “tweaked” hamstring. Receiver Gary Clark played with a bad hammy for much of his career back in the day.

Former iron man Jon Jansen looks slow in pass protection. The right tackle also got hurt for the fifth straight year, spraining a foot in the loss to the Panthers, and Stephon Heyer took his job in the week before the season opener.

Q: The Redskins didn’t have a first-round pick, but they did have a lots of picks. How are the rookies?

A: Unlike recent classes, the Redskins’ biggest draft class in six years didn’t have a bust among its 10 members.

Receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, tight end Fred Davis and offensive lineman Chad Rinehart eventually should start. Quarterback Colt Brennan, safeties Kareem Moore and Chris Horton and defensive end Rob Jackson showed playmaking abilities. Durant Brooks should establish himself as an NFL punter.

Only cornerback Justin Tryon, the mouthiest rookie on draft day, had an unimpressive summer.

Q: So are the Redskins contenders or pretenders?

A: It’s too early to tell. The Redskins were schizophrenic last season, losing four in a row to slip to the brink of elimination then winning their final four games by an average of 13 points to make the playoffs.

This team remains a work in progress even though all the regulars from last season are back except defensive end Phillip Daniels and the late Sean Taylor. Quarterback Jason Campbell and Co. still are getting comfortable with the West Coast passing scheme, and Zorn is new at both calling plays and taking charge of more than one position.

Facing the trio of tough NFC East rivals on the road during the first five weeks would be a serious challenge for a proven coach like Joe Gibbs, let alone rookie boss Zorn.

A repeat of last year’s 5-7 start and 4-0 finish (against the Ravens, Bengals, Eagles and 49ers) is not far-fetched. But a little less success is more likely.

Let’s call it 8-8 and think ahead to next season with the expectation of more success in the future.

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