PLAYERS TO WATCH

The season doesn't hinge on Jeff George's performance against the Browns tonight. It just seems that way.

After missing most of training camp George will start against Cleveland tonight and be more scrutinized than any other player. With good reason. If George's shoulder is sound, the Redskins have a chance to contend for the playoffs. If George can't make all the necessary throws because of his shoulder, that could sideline him once again.

But, based on practice, George should be fine. And Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said he won't alter the game plan, suddenly removing any long pass with George in the game. They must find out what George can do now.

George's absence is the primary reason the Redskins are too hard to judge after two preseason games. Without him, it's obvious the Redskins are in trouble. But they're a different team with him. The mood, not to mention the confidence, of the players skyrockets with George in the game. The receivers know they'll get the ball, Stephen Davis knows he won't be the sole focal point and the defense knows it doesn't have to pitch a shutout to win.

Will we see all we need to from George tonight? Probably not. He'll only receive about 15 plays. But we'll at least know where he, and the Redskins, are headed.

OTHERS TO WATCH

. . . Corner Donovan Greer will start opposite Champ Bailey. He hasn't shown any reason why he should start over Darrell Green--or Fred Smoot for that matter. Facing Cleveland's weak passing attack won't reveal all, but, if he gets beat, that will say a lot.

. . . Linebacker Kevin Mitchell is still starting in the middle. But Robert Jones is closing fast and Mitchell needs a good game to keep his job. Jones looked much more comfortable last week, shedding blockers and making plays.

. . . Fullback Bryan Johnson has played himself into a tie with Donnell Bennett and will start tonight. Johnson has received equal time with the first unit over the past week.

. . .Receiver Rod Gardner might start. If he does, and plays well, he'll stay in the starting lineup. He and Michael Westbrook could be a nice tandem--if George plays.

. . .Guard Dave Szott already is Washington's best guard. He'll start at left guard with Matt Campbell shifting to left tackle. Most likely they'll both start at guards, though it's uncertain who will start where. Szott gets lower than any other guard, helping him rip into defenders. He also pulls better than the others.

. . .Guard Derrick Fletcher will start on the right side tonight. This could be his last chance to impress the coaches. They say he's doing well, we take exception to that. Fletcher is big, but doesn't explode into defenders and lacks the quickness to pull. If he starts, Washington is in trouble.


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