Battle of the Beltway

Redskins vs. Ravens Washington faces its, um, rival in the third preseason game, hosting the Ravens at 8 p.m. Saturday. Actually, no one at Redskins Park considers the Ravens a big rival. It's a different story in Baltimore. Here's a preview of the game.

What Washington must do: Play much smarter and give the fans some hope. That means the defense must prevent big plays. That means the offense must avoid killer turnovers. And that means the special teams must stop long returns. The Redskins have game planned more for this game than any other this summer, partly because they wanted to make this seem like a normal week during the regular season. They want their players to get used to what that's like and this was their only chance to do it. But that also means they should play better, too.

Players on the spot: The first cuts must be made by 4 p.m. Tuesday, leaving many players on the hot seat. Most won't be surprises. But some players must show something on special teams if they want to stick around another week. Or longer. Corner Ade Jimoh falls in this category, though he's played well enough defensively to warrant a longer look.

Also, receiver Darnerien McCants must prove his worth. He's missed the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury. And if he does anything, it's goodbye to receivers Scott Cloman, Pat Woodcock and Richmond Flowers.

''He needs to show [something],'' Redskins receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., said. ''It's tough if you're not the number one or two receiver to sit out three weeks and expect to make the team, unless you're that valuable. He needs to prove that he's that valuable. He needs to do what we think he can do. He's a talented player and he's improved so much, but he needs to play well.''

Another who must show something is safety Ricot Joseph. He would be a huge help on special teams, but he must prove he can help in a pinch defensively, too.

Your turn: Safety Ifeanyi Ohalete will take over at strong safety, bumping Matt Bowen to free. Bowen has the speed to excel here and Ohalete is physical enough to handle the strong. If not, then Bowen will return to strong and David Terrell moves back to free. Andre Lott seems to have fallen out of this race.

A nose for the ball?: DT Jermaine Haley will get a chance to fill Brandon Noble's role, lining up over the nose. Thing is, that's not an easy task. Noble did so many things, from calling out plays to anticipating others that it'll be hard for Haley to do what he did. One Redskins source said, ''You can't replace what Noble did.'' Noble was a legit nose tackle; no one else on the team is. Except for maybe Del Cowsette, who has the build to succeed at this spot. But the same source said Cowsette will flash for a play or two and then disappear. Injuries might have something to do with that. Or talent.

New man: DT Martin Chase will get a chance to play this week, though don't know for how long. Chase has a chance to start in Washington. Which sums up the Redskins' woes up front.

Welcome back: Former Redskins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, now in a similar role with Baltimore. He was fired here after the 1999 season and only one player--Champ Bailey--started for him in Washington. Terrell was on the practice squad that season.

''I wasn't bitter about getting fired,'' Nolan said. ''I was probably a little more relieved because [the speculation] wasn't just for a month or two months, it was a good six months. That takes a toll on you. This business is hard enough when you're winning. But that experience taught me a lot about difficult people. Difficult times do that to anybody and that was a difficult time.

''There was a lot of pressure on a lot of people. People were looking out for themselves. The owner wasn't in my corner. And if you're a player, you've got to choose sides. I really didn't feel like I had a bad relationship with any of the players at all. That wasn't the issue. It was the relationship between me and management.''

Bailey remembers Nolan wanting to choose Chris McAlister instead of him.

''I don't have anything to prove to him,'' Bailey said. ''If you ask him now who's the best out there, if he says anyone but me he's lying.''

Good news: If the Redskins do keep four running backs, including Kenny Watson, one of the happiest people around would be special teams coach Mike Stock. He loves Watson on special teams. Even more, he loves having lots of running backs on those units. Why? He remembers one thing Denver's special teams had during its Super Bowl runs when he was in Kansas City: excellent special teams. And they were fueled by running backs, players who didn't mind collisions and could run hard to the ball.

Fading fast: Linebacker Orantes Grant . . . Offensive lineman Pita Elisara . . .

First start: Rookie Derrick Dockery replaces the injured Randy Thomas at right guard. A good chance for Dockery to show how far he's come. Dockery seems to have learned lots of lessons this camp and doesn't seem to repeat mistakes. In time he'll be a good one.

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