CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Washington Redskins suffered their first major training camp setback yesterday when they found out top draft choice Tom Carter will be sidelined two to three weeks with a pair of cracked bones in his back.
Carter, a cornerback, suffered the injury Saturday in the scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it first was diagnosed as a deep bruise.
When Carter didn't improve yesterday, doctors ordered the X-rays that revealed he cracked the first and third lumbar vertebrae of the transverse process. The tiny bones are in the bottom of his back.
"Missing time is going to hurt him," said coach Richie Petitbon. "I just hope he's not out as long as they think."
The first week of Petitbon's first camp had gone smoothly. The team has just one holdout (running back Ricky Ervins) and was free of major injuries until Carter's diagnosis.
In effect, Carter, who was slowed last week with a tight hamstring, is going to miss most of training camp.
The Redskins insist it's not the same as last year when top draft pick Desmond Howard missed training camp in a holdout and was a non-factor in his rookie season, catching only three passes. Howard has been slowed in training camp this year with a groin injury.
Petitbon said: "I don't put that in the same [category]. Desmond wasn't even here last year. That's a big difference."
Emmitt Thomas, assistant coach in charge of the defensive backs, said he's still confident that Carter will play in the season opener against Dallas on Sept. 6.
Thomas said: "It's not like that guy [Howard]. This guy is going to play. We've had him in mini-camp and summer schools [non-contact drills after mini-camp] and a week in training camp. Mentally, he's ready."
Thomas said Carter can be ready to open the season even if he doesn't play in the exhibition games.
"Coming out of that type of program at Notre Dame, playing against Michigan and SC [Southern California], the big-game atmosphere shouldn't really bother him," he said.
Carter seemed relieved that the prognosis is that he'll likely only miss two or three weeks.
"I don't get depressed about things like this. When I had injuries before [high school and college], I thought the whole world was coming to an end. But the body is pretty amazing," he said.
He missed only one game in three years at Notre Dame (ankle injury).
Thomas said he liked what he saw of Carter, who signed a four-year, $2.925 million deal with a $1 million bonus, in the first week.
"I guess what I'm saying is he's one play [an injury to starters Darrell Green or A. J. Johnson] from starting. We feel good about him. If something happened and he went in there and played well, he might not ever get unseated," Thomas said.
Trainer Bubba Tyer said rest is the main treatment for the injury, but the Redskins will try to keep him in shape.
"In athletics, you just don't let them rest. We've got machines to support his back and do some things to keep him in some sort of shape," Tyer said.
Although the Redskins lost Carter, there was one upbeat note on the injury front when quarterback Cary Conklin returned to practice after missing four days because of a tender knee.
"It's good to have him back," Petitbon said. "Hopefully, he'll be able to get through this week and scrimmage [Saturday]. He needs a lot of work."
But Conklin is frustrated because the injury has set him back in his bid to challenge Mark Rypien for a starting job.
"Obviously, I'd love to be 100 percent right now, but I'm not," he said. "I've got to be patient. It's going to be a long season."
NOTES: Petitbon said he plans to call Ervins to reassure him the Redskins still want him. Ervins' agent, Ray Newman, has asked for a trade. . . . Free-agent LB Kurt Loertscher of Washington State decided after the morning practice to quit because he wasn't pleased with his progress and already has another job. . . . The Redskins immediately recalled another free-agent LB, Jerry Dillon, who had been cut in the morning. . . . The Redskins also cut three other players -- DL Ralph Orta of Maryland, C Randall Parsons and LB Boone Powell. Orta's departure leaves the Redskins with three Maryland players -- TE Frank Wycheck, DL Derek Steele and CB Irvin Smith. . . . LB Rick Graf sprained his back yesterday and DL Sterling Palmer sat out with an abdominal pull.