- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2009

By keeping 15 players who are in their first or second year, the Washington Redskins’ coaching staff continues to influence the roster by discarding the aging for younger and more durable parts who are capable of playing an entire season without spending Monday through Friday in the trainer’s room.

As they are presently constructed, the Redskins will be a younger team when they face the New York Giants on Sunday in the Swamp.

But will they be better?

Perhaps, but it might not result in a giant jump from last year’s 8-8 record because the Redskins play in the wrong division and face another tough December schedule (two West Coast trips, two NFC East home games).

Q: Who were the biggest surprises on the 53-man roster?

A: No question: offensive linemen D’Anthony Batiste and Edwin Williams.

Batiste made it as a reserve tackle after Jeremy Bridges proved what everyone thought all along: He’s a guard, not a tackle, and therefore expendable. Williams is the 10th offensive lineman after the former Maryland center showed he could also play both guard spots.

The Redskins are carrying an extra offensive lineman, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in trouble if one of the starters goes down. The career starts for the five reserves: Williams 0, Batiste 4, Chad Rinehart 0, Will Montgomery 6 and Mike Williams 48 (none since 2005).

Q: Speaking of Mike Williams, how did the Redskins justify his roster spot?

A: Front office boss Vinny Cerrato and coach Jim Zorn both praised Williams’ play against Jacksonville. But the fact he’s on the team borders on nonsense and comes from the theory that the Redskins want to pat themselves on the back for signing the reclamation project.

Withhold complete judgment until the big guy has to play 70 snaps in a game, but 2009 should be treated as a redshirt season for Williams, who can get used to practicing every day and then challenge for a position next training camp.

Q: What’s the theory on keeping an extra running back (Marcus Mason) and cornerback (Byron Westbrook)?

A: Although it’s a compliment to their play in the preseason, it’s also an indictment on what the Redskins think they have with the Ladell Betts-Rock Cartwright and Justin Tryon-Kevin Barnes combos at running back and cornerback, respectively.

Cerrato mentioned Mason’s role, including third-down work. That’s not good news for Betts, who worked almost exclusively in that situation during the preseason. The guess is that the coaches aren’t confident in Betts’ or, for that matter, Clinton Portis’ ability to get the tough yards at the goal line. Enter Mason, who is 5-foot-9 and 215 but has a bulldozer mentality.

Westbrook made the team with solid play and because of a stinker of a month from Tryon and Barnes, one of whom may find himself inactive Sunday at 4:15 p.m. This is a huge opportunity for Westbrook, who toiled for two years on the practice squad and now could work himself into nickel and dime packages.

Q: How would you grade the Redskins’ preseason?

A: B-minus. Who cares about the 1-3 record; the Redskins accomplished some of the goals they set out to achieve.

Offensively, Malcolm Kelly appears to have overtaken Antwaan Randle El as the No. 2 receiver, tight end Fred Davis worked his way into several personnel groupings, quarterback Jason Campbell looked sharp in the last two games and the line stayed healthy.

Defensively, Albert Haynesworth got acclimated to the scheme, and Brian Orakpo received a ton of work at end and linebacker. On special teams, they were able to identify Chris Wilson and Reed Doughty as key contributors.

Q: Granted, the Redskins escaped relatively injury-free, but there are still some health concerns, right?

A: Absolutely. As Shawn Springs showed last year, calf injuries don’t disappear. Carlos Rogers is more apt to suck it up than Springs (preseason games with Patriots: one), but he didn’t get much work in the preseason, and Jim Zorn finally acknowledged concern last week.

The other area to watch, of course, is offensive line. The biggest worry is right guard Randy Thomas, followed by left tackle Chris Samuels.

Even though it’s younger, the Redskins’ roster remains ill-equipped in some spots to survive massive attrition.

Q: Compared to the Redskins team that crawled off the field in San Francisco in December with an 8-8 record, where is this group better?

A: Not considering positions where the same player starts but has improved, the Redskins are better at five or six spots.

Defense - Haynesworth is clearly better than Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston at tackle; Orakpo takes over at strongside linebacker for Marcus Washington, who lost several steps last year; and left end Phillip Daniels returns from injury to replace the legendary Jason Taylor.

Offense - Right tackle Stephon Heyer should be an improvement over Jon Jansen, specifically in pass protection. And if Kelly is in fact the No. 2 receiver, he will be able to stretch the field more than Randle El.

Special teams - Punter Hunter Smith is a proven NFL performer, something the Redskins haven’t had at the position since Tom Tupa in 2004.

Q: The opener is six days away. Where do the Redskins stand in the NFC East?

A: This team really does have some decent pieces. They should be able to stop teams, but expect a lot of tractor pull-type games - 14-10, 17-13 - that might result in wins but won’t be pretty. But they also lack just enough parts to contend.

In the division, it will go: 1. Philadelphia, 2. New York, 3. Redskins, 4. Dallas.

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