Redskins vs. Bucs

It's finally here. After months of talk about Joe Gibbs' return, what he must adjust to and how the team might do, and five preseason games, the real stuff begins. Thank goodness. Here's a look at the Redskins opener. And if you're going: leave earlier than normal. With 5,000 extra seats and increased security measures, that's a necessity.

What to expect offensively: Lots of shifts and motions, but many of the same basic plays -- counter treys, etc. It might be hard to run the fade routes against Tampa Bay's two-deep zone, but the seam routes with h-back Chris Cooley could be a nice fit. Look for the rookie to have a good start. That is, if he can elude Derrick Brooks, which won't be easy. And one worry is the quickness of Tampa's front against Washington's pulling game. The Redskins' guards and tackles must be quick. Receiver Rod Gardner needs to have a solid game, giving Washington another weapon.

Worried about: Right tackle Kenyatta Jones. He received an awful lot of help in the preseason so, to me, he's still very much unproven for the Redskins. If they can continue giving him lots of help that's fine. Greg Spires is a solid end for the Bucs, but Jones needs to handle guys like this on his own, at least for a decent amount of time.

Best matchup: LT Chris Samuels vs. DE Simeon Rice. Samuels looks like the Pro Bowl player of old and certainly he's ready to atone for last season. He also knows how far his reputation has tumbled. The Sporting News' list of top 10 player at each position is posted in the Redskins' locker room. Samuels is not among the top 10. After watching him this summer, we're betting that he'll be on that list next season.

Another good one: LG Derrick Dockery vs. Anthony McFarland. A good chance for Dockery to show how far he's come. He's had a strong camp, but McFarland is a blossoming player.

What to expect defensively: Everything. And then some. But the Redskins had better hope they pressure Brad Johnson because if the Bucs' quarterback has time, he'll hit every hot receiver. I'm not sold on Tampa's offensive line. Their receivers are strong in name only -- Tim Brown and Joey Galloway are past their prime. They'd have fit in well with the 2000 Redskins. If Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs can't handle them, the Redskins are in trouble. It's not that either receiver can't do anything, it's just that neither should be a No. 1 at this point. The guy I worry about is Charlie Garner.

Need to expose: the Bucs' line. Tampa Bay has four new starters on its line, but the Bucs battled injuries here throughout the preseason. There's no way they can be a cohesive unit yet. And that's what has to please Gregg Williams. His schemes force teams to communicate well -- or else.

Excited about: LaVar Arrington. The Redskins will rush him from all over the place. By moving him around it prevents the offense from getting a feel for where he's at -- and it limits some play calls that take advantage of his occasional lapses. The Redskins will move him around to expose his strengths and limit his weaknesses. It's what Gregg Williams does best.

Worried about: The run defense. I still need to be convinced that the middle of Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave'a and Antonio Pierce is the answer. Maybe they are, but I need more proof. Sunday will provide some.

Best matchup: RE Phillip Daniels vs. LT Derrick Deese. Two newcomers get to show their new teams that a problem spot last year is no longer one.

Quotables:

RG Randy Thomas on rookie h-back Chris Cooley, ''I'm not worried about no rookies. He has to prove himself. I'm not jumping on his bandwagon yet. Rookie ain't played a game yet. Holler at me next week.''

QB Mark Brunell, ''If I'm looking at Simeon Rice then I'm in trouble. That's Chris' job. I have other things to worry about. It's about trust. You trust that the linemen will protect you. I don't have to look at a defensive lineman. That would be foolish.''

TE Walter Rasby, ''Coach has done a good job of not letting [his first game back] be a focal point. We're over the thing about coach Gibbs coming back. To us it's the first game of the regular season and that's it.''

Coach Joe Gibbs, ''It's obvioulsy a different feelin when you come back like this. You're more nervous. I think back to the first game I played here, it's more a feeling like that than in the other years. In the other years we had won Super Bowls and had a different feeling about it. . . . I'm always concerned. I don't know of an opener where I haven't been concerned.''

LB LaVar Arrington, ''It would be a great stride for us to have every fan in the stadium. It's the biggest stadium in the NFL and I have not been part of one game where every single seat has been filled. I went to a USC-Virginia Tech game and it made me do a little introspection. I had to come to a college game as a spectator and the place was rocking. It was crazy. I know a lot of those people live in the District and Maryland and Virginia. I saw so many Redskins T-shirts at this college game. So to all the fans out there, I really believe they can make all the difference.''

RB Clinton Portis, ''Of course I want to be the focal point, but I won't pout if I'm not the man every game. I'll try to be the man every game, but some teams will game plan to stop me. Hopefully it won't work, but it happens once in a while. The offense doesn't click for 16 straight games. . . . But I'm prepared to carry the team as far as I can.''

CB Fred Smoot, ''Brad Johnson is smart, man. It's not the greatest athlete that makes the greatest plays and leads teams to championships. It's the smartest players. That's what it takes to win. Brad has learned to do that.''

Smoot, ''We want to show the world what kind of defense we are.''

Smoot, ''If you look at the Redskins' history, there's only one person who consistently won and that was Joe Gibbs. You bring him back to cure the cancer and we think the cancer is cured.''

The prediction: Redskins win, 17-14.


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