KITNA: 'Skins Defensive Still Worrisome

IRVING, Tex. - The Washington Redskins are expected to have cornerback Carlos Rogers — who has missed three of his team's last four games with a troublesome hamstring — back in the lineup when the 'Skins take on the Dallas Cowboys Sunday in Arlington.

But two of the team's most talented defensive players, safety LaRon Landry and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, won't be on the field.

Their absence is notable, Dallas quarterback Jon Kitna said, but does not exactly leave Washington's department of defense without any weapons. With playmakers like linebackers London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Lorenzo Alexander and Rocky McIntosh, cornerbacks Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, etc., Kitna said it would be shortsighted to suggest that the Dallas offense will have an easy go of things Sunday.

Kitna acknowledged that Landry was having a sensational season for the Redskins — Landry led the league in tackles for much of the season before an Achilles tendon injury shelved him for the rest of the season — in large part because he was able to refine the enormous physical gifts that prompted Washington to draft him with the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

"He always had the physical ability," Kitna said, "but this year, he had become a little more sound in what he did. He was always a little bit of a gambler, a guy who would take chances to make a play, but this year it seemed like he just had a little more awareness, so he would take chances, but now he's smarter about it. He seems to understand better when he can do that."

In addition to Landry's emergence as a bona fide star and subsequent season-ending injury, the biggest drama in Washington — before Friday's announcement that Washington head coach Mike Shanahan had inexplicably benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman — has been the Haynesworth saga.

When inspired, Haynesworth can be one of the league's dominant defensive players. When not inspired, which seems to be a frequently applicable description, he can as disruptive off the field as he can be on it. Haynesworth and Shanahan went through a very public standoff during training camp in which Shanahan wouldn't let his most expensive player practice until he passed a conditioning test. Once he got back on the field, Haynesworth balked at the idea of playing nose tackle in Washington's new 3-4 defense, pouting and complaining until Shanahan ultimately suspended Haynesworth without pay for the remainder of the season.

Despite the absence of Haynesworth and his rare physical talent, Kitna said the Washington defense still presents problems with which the Dallas offense must contend Sunday.

"They still have good players everywhere on their defensive front," Kitna said. "We can't get excited because (Haynesworth) isn't there — we have to worry about the guys who are there.

"Orakpo does a really good job — he is one of the best young defensive players in the NFL. No. 97 (Alexander) has really done a lot for them on the other side of the field. He makes a lot of plays and he really sets the edge for them. And it starts and ends for them with London Fletcher."

There are not many 35-year-old linebackers who can play in the NFL, much less compete at an elite level, but Kitna said Fletcher's success — he leads Washington's defense with 146 tackles and is tied for the team lead with a pair of forced fumbles — is anything but surprising.

"Guys that have a passion for the game, like he does, always seem to be the guys who do what they need to do to play at a high level," Kitna said. It's the guys who rely only on physical ability who seem to have a faster decline."

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