Looking Ahead

NFL teams are entering the final stretch of the exhibition season, preparing for a slate of games that should have all the intensity of a long nap and all the hitting of a room full of statues.

But don't tell second-year outside linebacker Victor Butler this week is meaningless. He sat Tuesday at his locker, game face on.

But it wasn't Thursday's game against Miami at Cowboys Stadium that held Butler's interest.

"Everyone is preparing for Miami," Butler said, "but mentally, we're all thinking about Washington."

Head coach Wade Phillips said after watching his team get whipped Saturday by the Houston Texans that his starters might play considerably longer against Miami than is normal in the final exhibition game of the season, a game most teams virtually prohibit their key players from entering. But Phillips said that in the heat of the moment. He was angry at his team's performance … as he should have been.

But Phillips is far too smart to allow any key players to make more than a cameo appearance Thursday against the Dolphins. Like every other coach in the NFL, he'll spend the last exhibition game the fringe players hoping to earn a spot on the roster. Players who will make the team, like Butler, will be thinking ahead.

"That's our ultimate goal — beating Washington," Butler said. "It's a real game, and they're a divisional opponent. I'm sure they're gearing up for us, too."

Butler scoffed when asked if he believes the reports out of Washington quoting new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan as saying he's not sure new quarterback Donovan McNabb will play in the regular-season opener because of an ankle sprain.

"He'll play — of course we're going to prepare like he'll play," Butler said. "He's a great athlete and a great competitor."

Once they get through the Dolphins Thursday, the Cowboys find themselves in the awkward position of scouting an opponent with a new coaching staff. Butler said much of the preparation for the game has revolved around watching film of Shanahan's old Denver Broncos teams and McNabb's old Philadelphia Eagles teams.

"It's not hard to find a look for what they're going to do," Butler said. "It's all about putting the time in to prepare.

Before Butler and his teammates take on McNabb and the Redskins, he has another game on which to focus. Butler's alma mater, Oregon State, will play Saturday at Cowboys Stadium against TCU, and Butler — who said he will be on the OSU sideline for the game — has been engaged in an ongoing war of words with teammate (and ex-Horned Frog) Stephen Hodge.

Hodge is among Butler's closest friends on the team, but the two are not exactly what could be called shy with their opinions, or with their loyalty to their respective college teams. Butler said he and Hodge have a bet on the game, and it's not money. Asked to share details, Butler didn't hesitate to fire a few shots at Hudge.

"Push-ups — I wanted push-ups, because Hodge is fat and I know he can't do any," Butler said, laughing. "We (Oregon State) can win this game, and when we do, he owes me 100 push-ups — on command. We can be in the middle of practice, I can tell him to drop and give me 10. We can be in the grocery store — anywhere. I'm going to own him.

"That's why we've got to win — I don't want him to own me. Stephen Hodge has a sick mind, and I don't want him owning me. He's likely to call me when I'm in the shower and have me doing push-ups in there."

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