Preseason isn't enough to curb Skins' optimism

August 30, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

Maybe it's the byproduct of clean living. Or shameless good fortune. Or the result of building one of the NFL's most efficient organizations.

But even when things look bad for Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins, they look good.

How's that, you ask?

The Redskins just dragged through a 1-3 preseason of diminishing returns, a preseason Gibbs called the worst of his 11 years in Washington. Sunday night at 8 (TNT cable), they open the regular season at RFK Stadium against the Detroit Lions, whose run-and-shoot offense ran and almost crippled the Skins last season.

But the Lions aren't using the run-and-shoot as much this season and their quarterback, Rodney Peete, played very little through preseason because of injuries. Result: The Redskins are favored by 7 1/2 points.

Looking good?

Consider the Redskins' competition in the always fierce NFC East. The Phoenix Cardinals, who had designs on making a strong move in the division, lost their quarterback, Timm Rosenbach, for the season with a knee injury. The Dallas Cowboys, who improved significantly last season under Jimmy Johnson, are playing a heavyweight schedule after playing a lightweight, fifth-place schedule a year ago. And the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, perennial East powers, are operating with new coaches.

Coupled with a favorable schedule of their own, it seems to suggest the Redskins will be right there with their chief tormentors, the Giants, come December.

For all of the preseason angst, the Redskins were not without accomplishment. Although their running game never wound up, they still averaged 4 yards a carry. Although the secondary was torched by the likes of Ken O'Brien and Todd Philcox, the Redskins gave up just one touchdown in three of their four games.

The question marks on defense for the Redskins concern the play of cornerback Martin Mayhew and the health of their defensive ends. Mayhew was beaten often in preseason, a circumstance that became more critical once cornerback A.J. Johnson dislocated his wrist. Johnson will spend the first four weeks on injured reserve. Backup help will have to come from Alvoid Mays and Sidney Johnson for now.

At defensive end, Fred Stokes is nursing a chronic shoulder problem and Charles Mann is coming off knee surgery. The Redskins failed in an attempt to trade for Houston's Sean Jones.

The defense is relatively new up the middle with Tim Johnson and Eric Williams at the tackles, Matt Millen at middle linebacker and Brad Edwards at free safety.

On offense, quarterback Mark Rypien held out for 10 days and quickly sewed up the starting job when Stan Humphries once again fell from grace with the Redskins staff. In a curious &L development, Jeff Rutledge will open the season as Rypien's backup, Humphries as the third or emergency quarterback, and Cary Conklin on injured reserve. Rutledge gets the nod because he holds for Chip Lohmiller's placekicks. Gibbs said that should Rypien get injured, Humphries would be the starter.

That's presuming he isn't traded before then, a strong possibility.

Earnest Byner established himself as the team's top running back, and veteran Gerald Riggs was restored to the roster when he went unclaimed on waivers. Newcomer Ricky Ervins, a third-round draft choice from Southern California, could make a contribution as the third-down back, replacing Kelvin Bryant, who was released.

Then there's the Posse, the Redskins' unparalleled trio of wide receivers. Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders make this a productive offense no matter who plays quarterback.

The Redskins may even have a few new wrinkles of their own. In the first quarter of a 13-9 loss to the Jets last week, they showed a hurry-up offense. And as tradition has it, Gibbs closed practice this week to reporters.

+ Now the real season begins.

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