Redskins' defense to get first test vs. Jaguars Brunell and company provide stiff challenge

September 28, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

There are many reasons not to get excited about the Washington Redskins' defense, even though it is ranked fourth in the NFL and has allowed just 12.3 points a game.

The most important reason is simple -- no one has really tested veteran cornerback Darrell Green and company. The Carolina Panthers didn't throw much with backup Steve Beuerlein, the Arizona Cardinals struggled under Kent Graham, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still getting used to Kordell Stewart running the show.

Also, three games is too early to judge new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's simplified defense. Remember last year when the unit folded after eight games?

Another sobering thought is that even though the defense is rated No. 1 against the pass, it's last in the league against the run, and today it will be without starting left end Kenard Lang, who is recovering from an inner-ear infection.

Coach Norv Turner is among those waiting for answers from a defense that will be challenged when the Redskins (2-1) face the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-0) at 1 p.m. at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.

"It says a little about our defense to be No. 1 against the pass," Turner said. "But today is our biggest test by far. We're playing one of the best teams in the NFL, Mark Brunell is the best passer we've faced and they have the best receivers we've gone against. It's a great matchup, our corners [Green and Cris Dishman] against their receivers [Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell]."

Right defensive end Rich Owens is also waiting before drawing any conclusions.

"I won't say our defense is better than last year, but it's different," said Owens. "And there is more room for growth this year. It doesn't bother me that no one is giving us much credit. This is not a glamour position, anyway."

Owens seemed to be psyched for the Jaguars and running back Natrone Means.

When someone mentioned that Means was a "bruiser," Owens said, "Natrone's not a bruiser to me. I'm not a cornerback. I'm 280 pounds and he's 245. Why should I worry about him?"

Redskins middle linebacker Marvcus Patton did not want to get involved in an evaluation of his defense.

"We'll be a defense when we're in the playoffs and have a winning record. It's too early to talk about it. We just want to win."

Brunell's ability to scramble gives Washington a lot of extra concerns on defense, and the Jacksonville quarterback said he will not be "holding anything back" in just his second game after recovering from knee surgery.

"I didn't think about my knee against Pittsburgh, and I'm sure I won't against Washington. There was just a little soreness, that's all," said Brunell, who led a 30-21 victory over the Steelers on Monday night.

In addition to the rookie Lang at defensive end, Washington will play without starting right guard Bob Dahl, whose knee is not regaining strength the way it should since last summer's surgery.

Dahl started the past two games after playing in short-yardage situations in the first game of the season.

However, flashy third-year wide receiver Michael Westbrook will

start for the first time since punching running back Stephen Davis in practice on Aug. 19.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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