Falcons at Redskins

The starting quarterback battle is settled, as if it was ever in doubt. The regular season opener is less than 10 days away. So that makes the Redskins' goal in tonight's preseason finale an easy one: stay healthy. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

That doesn't make for a great marketing slogan -- Come see the Redskins try and stay healthy! -- but it is reality for the coaches. When asked this past week what they wanted from tonight, that's the first thing they said.

What needs to happen tonight: The Redskins need to emerge heathy. That's it. Sure, it would be nice to have Mark Brunell get a chance to get more in sync with the starting wideouts. But that will happen in practice, which is why they named the starter Monday, giving him two weeks of full reps with the first unit.

One last chance: Coaches can still be swayed, a little, by tonight's performances. They have to make final cuts by 4 p.m. Sunday. Washington needs to make 23 cuts. The Redskins then will stock the eight-man practice squad (though they can't sign players until 4 p.m. Monday, but they can get commitments before then).

What to watch tonight: The starting corners against Atlanta receiver Peerless Price. Don't completely buy into coordinator Gregg Williams' notion that it was all the pass rush's fault last week. Yes, it was bad. But that doesn't explain Torry Holt consistently getting open by 5 yards all night. So it would be nice to see Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs have tighter coverage. They may give up a few catches, but at least cover the guy.

Welcome back: End Phillip Daniels. Let's see how different the Redskins' line is with him in the game. Chances are, he won't play too much, just enough to break a sweat.

Best battle: For backup running back, behind Clinton Portis. It would appear Ladell Betts is the No. 2 guy, as long as he's healthy. But then what do you do? Me? I take John Simon because he offers a more versatile package, with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He's also been working more with the first-team coverage units (Rock Cartwright also is on first-team kick coverage). Sultan McCullough offers speed, but Trung Canidate proved last year that speed is low on the list of what makes a special back. Cartwright's toughness can not be understated. I wonder if there's room for both Simon and Cartwright.

Another battle: Cornerbacks Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown would appear to be fighting for one spot as well. Neither is ready to help in a game, aside from special teams. On a hunch, I'll give Brown the edge. It appears the top four corners are set with Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs, Walt Harris and Rashad Bauman.

What do you do with: End Regan Upshaw. He hasn't shown much in his one-plus season with the Redskins, but he's their most experienced reserve end. Ron Warner has played ahead of Upshaw the past couple games and has looked better. But he's highly inexperienced. The Redskins had better hope nothing happens to starters Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels.

Still not sold on: Antonio Pierce in the middle. I'd like to see him show the ability to shed blocks and make plays, something he'll have to do often this season given the wobbly status of starter Mike Barrow. Maybe Pierce will show that tonight.

Worst storyline entering this game: The injuries. If anything derails the Redskins' playoff hopes it will be the nagging injuries to Barrow, Daniels, Randy Thomas and Laveranues Coles. The Redskins have not yet put their so-called starting 11 defense on the field during a preseason game. That's a problem, as is the lack of cohesion between Thomas and right tackle Kenyatta Jones.


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