Eye on the Competition: Washington

The Redskins were one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs' return 2004, finishing 6-10, just a game better than they had in 2003 under the bumbling Steve Spurrier.

Even more stunning was that the Redskins were 6-10 despite having the third-ranked defense as Gibbs, the architect of three Super Bowl-winning offenses, ran the NFL's third-worst attack.

With the offensive line bolstered by the return of right tackle Jon Jansen and the addition of center Casey Rabach and the downfield passing game enhanced by the acquisitions of speedy receivers Santana Moss and David Patten, better times should be ahead in 2005 if Patrick Ramsey can convert from a mistake-ridden passer into a productive quarterback.

The defense lost top tackler Antonio Pierce and first-rate cornerback Fred Smoot to free agency but should remain strong thanks to the return to health of three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington, end Phillip Daniels and safety Matt Bowen as well as the addition of cornerback Carlos Rogers, the team's No. 1 draft choice.

However, Washington doesn't figure to post a much better record with road games at Denver, Kansas City and St. Louis and a home date with San Diego in addition to its home-and-home meetings with Philadelphia. If the Redskins split with Dallas and the Giants, that's a 2-8 mark meaning they would have to sweep Arizona, Chicago, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa Bay just to finish .500.

1. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey has to finally fulfill the potential that made him the Redskins' first-round pick in the 2002 draft. Ramsey had a sloppy preseason, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked four times in just 55 dropbacks. If Ramsey can simply reduce the negative plays, the Redskins have the defense and running game to win, but the fourth-year man from Tulane hasn't shown that he can do that.

2. Lemar Marshall, who filled in admirably on the weak side after LaVar Arrington was hurt in 2004, has to show that moving him into the middle was the right thing to do, not just a switch by default. Marshall isn't the dynamic leader that predecessor Antonio Pierce was and he needs to prove that he can hold up physically at 232 pounds and that he's up to the mental and emotional challenges of being the signalcaller in Gregg Williams' extremely sophisticated defense.

3. Stop the penalties. Not only does Ramsey commit turnovers and the defense not force enough (two interceptions, no fumble recoveries in preseason), but the Redskins are constantly making the flags fly. After committing a Gibbs-record 115 penalties last year, the Redskins were flagged 34 times in preseason to 20 for their foes. If Washington doesn't cut weigh back on those silly mistakes, improving on last year's 6-10 record will be that much harder.

QB Patrick Ramsey:
He proved he's tough by enduring 13 sacks in his first two starts. He proved that he can be efficient by completing 65 percent of his passes after winning the starting job back from Mark Brunell for the final seven games of 2004. But Ramsey, who had the worst interception ratio of any of the 26 quarterbacks who started in 2004 and are doing so again in 2005, hasn't shown that he can stay away from the costly mistake. And despite a supposedly strong arm, Ramsey constantly underthrew swift new receivers Santana Moss and David Patten this summer.

WR Santana Moss: He has the wheels to make Washington's passing attack much more dynamic than it was without him last season. Moss showed that in practice and in preseason, averaging 19.4 yards on his five catches (.2 yards less than fellow speedy new receiver David Patten).

And as badly as diminutive return specialist Antonio Brown struggled in preseason, it should be just a matter of time before Moss (12.0 yards career average) is back returning punts, too.

CB Walt Harris: Replacing departed chatterbox Fred Smoot in the locker room was never going to happen, but Harris has struggled making up for Smoot's absence on the field, too. Harris missed the second and third preseason games with a strained calf and didn't look especially good in the games he did play. With rookie Carlos Rogers, the ninth pick in April's draft, playing well despite missing the first two weeks of camp with a bad ankle, the 31-year-old Harris' time in the starting lineup could be short-lived if he doesn't quickly recover the form that made him a starter for Chicago and Indianapolis from 1996-2003 and a valuable nickel back for Washington last season.

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