Five who must perform

September 01, 2000|By Brent Jones

RB Stephen Davis

Davis was the main reason the Redskins went to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. He rushed for 1,405 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He scored 17 touchdowns and took tremendous pressure off new quarterback Brad Johnson.

Davis has depth behind him in Adrian Murrell and Skip Hicks, but there is a significant talent gap. The Redskins could afford to be without Davis for only a few games and definitely not for any playoff games. He hobbled off last season with a high ankle sprain in the playoff loss to the Bucs. The ankle is fully healed.

CB Deion Sanders

He was the Redskins' most expensive acquisition, but could easily be the guy who puts them over the top. Sanders still has the ability to shut down the opposition's best receiver. He will need to be every bit of Prime Time in matchups with Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson and St. Louis' Isaac Bruce during the regular season.

Sanders has won Super Bowls in San Francisco and Dallas, both in his first seasons with the teams. Besides being a top-notch cornerback, Sanders also is the most electrifying punt returner in the league.

DE Bruce Smith

Another big pickup for the Redskins this off-season, Smith can still get after the passer. The concern is that Smith, 37, will wear down during the season. But that did not happen last year - Smith recorded 2.5 sacks in Buffalo's playoff loss to Tennessee.

If he can give that kind of dominant playoff performance for the Redskins, that would be a dimension the team did not have last season. Redskins coach Norv Turner does not plan to use Smith every down, and the club has the depth at defensive end to rest him.

WR Michael Westbrook

He had the type of injury-free, breakout season last year people expected to see a long time ago. Westbrook set career highs in catches (65), yards (1,191) and touchdowns (nine).

He is big, fast and can catch. Albert Connell also had a great year, but Westbrook is the No. 1 guy. Westbrook started every game last season, and the Redskins need him to do the same this season. If Westbrook went down, Irving Fryar, a good No. 3 receiver, could not withstand starting and having to play every down at 37.

LB LaVar Arrington

He is playing at a position that took the brunt of the criticism for the Redskins' 30th-ranked defense. All three starters return this year, although Arrington will replace strong-side linebacker Greg Jones at some point.

Jones is steady, but Arrington has big-play ability. He can get after the passer and cover tight ends and running backs. He is a hard hitter and can bring some fire to a group that, outside of Shawn Barber, was not that dynamic last season.

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