As Redskins eye banner year, poor preseason raises red flags Stubblefield, Wilkinson expected to lift defense, but 1-3 mark's a downer

September 04, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins figured to enter the 1998 season full of hope, but instead are coping with a pile of question marks.

The hope was fostered by the improved health of quarterback Gus Frerotte, running back Terry Allen and wide receiver Michael Westbrook, a solid linebacking corps and secondary, and the addition of defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson.

The questions marks, however, built up over a disappointing 1-3 preseason in which the Redskins scored just 13 points in the first and second quarters dominated by first-string players, including scoreless performance last Friday night against the Buffalo Bills.

Frerotte completed slightly more than 49 percent of his passes and his offensive line allowed him to be sacked six times. The receiver expected to serve as his big-play guy -- Westbrook -- served instead as a silent partner with five receptions for 12.4 yards per catch.

This seems to be typical of recent Redskins football, where talent and results coincide only about half the time, explaining finishes of 9-7 and 8-7-1 over the past two years. Frerotte took much of the blame last season with a spotty performance, and his 73.8 passer rating was among the lowest of any starter in the league.

"Gus was a lot like our offense: inconsistent," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "Put up his four or five best games, and you'd say he played awfully well. Put up two or three games, and you'd say he really struggled."

As for the revamped defense, there are question marks there as well.

Wide receiver Leslie Shepherd was asked before the Buffalo game if the solid defense put pressure on the offense to score points. When Buffalo produced a 99-yard drive against a defense aiming to be the league's best, Shepherd's response -- "They got the money, we didn't" -- might have seemed an eerily prescient reminder if the New England Patriots hadn't done exactly the same thing in the first drive of a game six days earlier.

Such potential dissension bodes ill for the Redskins, who missed the playoffs after 7-1 and 4-2 starts in 1996 and 1997, respectively.

A brutal early schedule won't help, either.

Nearly all of the first half is taken by playoff contenders -- New York Giants (twice), San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Dallas Minnesota -- with Philadelphia as the only game against a probable noncontender. Still, after consecutive late-season breakdowns, Redskins officials are reluctant to put too much weight on any part of the season.

"We have the most demanding schedule in the league [over the first five games]," general manager Charley Casserly said, "but it's a 16-game season and you have to look at the record at the end of the season."

Of course, there's reason to believe that the end of 1998 will be brighter for the Redskins, thanks to the run-stopping potential of Stubblefield, last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Wilkinson. The defense allowed 4.4 yards per carry and ranked 28th against the rush last season while tackle Sean Gilbert held out in a contract dispute,

Teammates are hoping that the pair can change that and take some of the burden off them.

"They make plays, they're big, they're strong, they're fast," linebacker Marvcus Patton said of Stubblefield and Wilkinson. "I just want to look forward to this year and the fact that hopefully we'll have a good defense with those two guys as well as the guys we still have here."

By paying Stubblefield $36 million over six seasons and trading first- and third-round draft picks to the Cincinnati Bengals for Wilkinson -- then signing him to a five-year, $21.4 million deal -- the Redskins made a move that could have an effect as much symbolic as anything else.

"No question, I think that gave everyone a lift," Turner said. "The fact that we did what we could to get them, then they've come in and had just a positive impression, impact on everybody."

Across the line of scrimmage rests perhaps the team's biggest question mark, an offensive line that allowed 37 sacks last


But with Brad Badger and former Baltimore Stallion Shar Pourdanesh at tackle, Cory Raymer at center, and Joe Patton and Tre Johnson at guard, Turner declared confidence in the offensive line's ability.

"We have enough good players to be a very good offensive line," Turner said. "People get carried away in preseason. People want us to be good, and when they see something not going exactly the way it should, there is a concern, but we're going to be a good offensive line."

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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