The Top Ten Stories of the Preseason

The preseason—the period that started with the final gun of the Redskins' final game of the 2002 season—is now over with the team beginning preparations for the '03 season kickoff against the New York Jets. Here's a look back at the 10 most important developments over those eight months in reverse order of their long-term impact on the team's success:

10. Dan Wilkinson released—He was a big body, that's for sure, but, just as certainly, he was vastly overpaid. It was highly unlikely that he would have been on the team beyond 2003 in any event.

9. Spurrier becomes more hands on —The Ballcoach named Hue Jackson as the offensive coordinator in order to free himself up to pay attention to details such as defense and special teams. He attended meetings that he had skipped last year, such as the lengthy, tedious sessions devoted to evaluating free agents. We'll see if his involvement helps.

8. Taylor Jacobs drafted —The Redskins got rid of most of the players who were with Spurrier at Florida and didn't figure to add any on draft day. That changed when the Gator receiver, who the team had rated as a top-20 talent, fell to them in the second round.

7. Brandon Noble seriously injures knee —He was the one given in the middle of the line until he tore three knee ligaments and dislocated his kneecap in the second preseason game. The injury forced the team to trade some draft picks for some question marks in Martin Chase and Lional Dalton. The long-term prospects for Noble's recovery are cloudy, meaning that the team may have to eat his cap dollars while having to pay a replacement as well.

6. Darryl Gardner leaves as a free agent —Are you beginning to pick up on the theme here on the turmoil in the defensive line? At the end of the '02 season Gardner vowed that he's be back in a Redskins uniform, but a dispute over injury provisions in his contract sent him packing to Denver. The gigantic tackle was prone to back problems, but was a true force in the middle when healthy. Time will tell if letting him walk was a mistake.

5. The Chad Morton saga —The Jets thought they had matched the Redskins' offer sheet for the speedy kick returner. In a stunning ruling, though, and arbitrator (and Redskins season ticket holder) awarded Morton to Washington due to a dispute over voidable years in the contract. This story also underscored the team's aggressive pursuit of other teams' restricted free agents, a rarely-used tactic until this year as well as their raiding of the Jets of four of their key players. This led to some bad blood between the two teams' front offices. We'll find out soon if any of that spills onto the playing field on Thursday night.

4. Stephen Davis released —With few exceptions, the Redskins have had a long line of power running backs for the past 30 years putting up 1,000-yard seasons by running inside. Starting with Larry Brown and running through John Riggins, George Rogers, Gerald Riggs, Terry Allen, and Davis, the Redskins have had a between-the-tackles personality on offense. The release of Davis marked the end of that era.

3. Randy Thomas signed —The interior offensive line was a joke last year, and the signing of Thomas, a solid guard in his prime, will add considerable strength and stability there.

2. Patrick Ramsey named starting quarterback —Spurrier did this just minutes into the preseason, making the announcement at his post game press conference following the season finale against Dallas. The second-year player has a big-time arm and appears to have the smarts to figure it all out. There will be some growing pains, however, and how well the Redskins recover from them will be critical.

1. Signing Laveranues Coles —In the free agent era, the Redskins have handed out big singing bonuses and, more often than not, have been rewarded with mediocre play and indifferent attitudes (see Stubblefield, Dana and Sanders, Deion, for further information). If early indications prove correct, the $13 million and first-round draft pick that it took to pry Coles away from the Jets will be a bargain. He works hard in practice, is a perfectionist when it comes to running his pass routes, and has assumed a leadership. In very limited playing time in the preseason, he has shown playmaking ability not seen in these parts in quite some time. Coles will be the key to making this offense work.

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