Panthers at Redskins

It was all he knew. And he knew just how good it was. He'd watch fans fill RFK Stadium every game, rain or snow. He'd watch them shake the stadium after big moments. And he'd hear their chants, fueling his players' emotions.

So it's no wonder Joe Gibbs slipped a bit this week when referring to his first home game in 12 years. He said he was looking forward to playing at RFK instead of FedEx Field. Who can blame him? FedEx has hardly been a home field advantage for the Redskins. And the reputation of this being a tough city to play in ended long ago -- it's also hard to claim fan supremacy when opposing fans number in the thousands for big games at a sold-out stadium.

But Gibbs knows what Washington can be like for a winner. It can be like RFK. They just need something worth cheering for, and, tonight, that's what Gibbs hopes to give them. Of course, many fans might want to leave after they watch Gibbs run onto the field -- with drenching rains in the forecast it could get ugly.

Gibbs has only been to FedEx twice -- to be inducted into the Ring of Honor and for a draft day party. But to him the venue doesn't matter as much as the people filling it.

''I felt like we had a tremendous advantage at RFK,'' Gibbs said. ''It was an older stadium and it was different and the fans were close and they were loud here, too. We've got a lot of them in there. So our fans are one thing about being in Washington, I never questioned that.''

But tonight will be less about his return than about watching the progress of certain players. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey gets his first start of the preseason in his battle with Mark Brunell. Neither quarterback has taken the lead in this race.

The offensive line will get an excellent test against the Panthers' front four, especially right tackle Kenyatta Jones against end Julius Peppers. Jones has looked OK in practice, but has not faced anyone this good. And it'll be a good chance for left tackle Chris Samuels to take a first step in reclaiming his good name against end Mike Rucker.

Pay attention also to who plays on special teams, which should provide a clue as to who might land the final roster spots. Running back Sultan McCullough will have to make the team based on his ability to be a backup because he hasn't played on any special teams, yet. With Ladell Betts often injured, however, that could leave an opening for someone else. Betts could be a good player, but it's hard to be that when you're always hurt.

Corner Garnell Wilds is on the first kickoff team, so if he can show anything on defense -- and he's been OK thus far -- then he could be a surprise roster addition. And surely safety Sean Taylor will move into the starting lineup soon.

Current starter Andre Lott has shown no reason to keep the job. He's not physical and he doesn't make plays, both attributes of Taylor.

At receiver, it'll be interesting to see if Gari Scott can continue his climb. He'll get a chance to return kicks and a good night will boost his chances. Maybe not of staying here in a crowded field, but perhaps with another team.

Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin is another to watch. He had a good night against Denver and teammates and coaches salivate at his potential. Defensive tackle Brandon Noble will also start, playing with his broken right hand heavily taped. And defensive end Regan Upshaw gets another chance to prove if he can help or not.

Middle linebacker Clifton Smith had a good first game. He impressed last year's staff before landing on the practice squad, but could challenge for a roster spot this time.

And punter Kevin Stemke could get a long look if Tom Tupa can't punt because of a back injury.


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