COMBINE DAY 3: Saunders Speaks

INDIANAPOLIS -- The attention shifted to the defense Saturday at the NFL Combine with defensive linemen and linebackers available for interviews at the Indiana Convention Center.

But the most intriguing news as it pertains to Redskins fans is the rumor -- confirmed by Giants general manager Jerry Reese -- that New York is pursuing a trade for Buffalo running back Willis McGahee.

As if the Redskins' porous defense didn't have enough problems, what with needs all over the lineup, salary cap troubles that could result in the release of three veterans and a gaping hole at safety. They couldn't stop Tiki Barber the last two years and McGahee is the kind of back that gives nearly every team trouble.

Barber has retired and the Giants are absolutely swinging for a home run in trying to trade for McGahee, who has two 1,000-plus-yard seasons with the Bills. Clearly, Brandon Jacobs isn't the answer as a No. 1 back and the Giants don't think a rookie running back would be ready to carry the load in the NFC East.

On the Redskins' trade front, there doesn't appear to much cooking. If they do make a trade, it will be on Draft Day. The Redskins have made a practice recently of making picks-for-veterans and/or veteran-for-veteran trades.

* 2004: A third-round pick to Jacksonville for QB Mark Brunell; A second-round pick and CB Champ Bailey to Denver for RB Clinton Portis; a late-round pick to Philadelphia for James Thrash.

* 2005: WR Laveranues Coles to the Jets for WR Santana Moss; a couple picks to Denver for the right to draft QB Jason Campbell.

* 2006: Two draft picks to San Francisco for WR Brandon Lloyd; a package, including a 2007 second-round pick to the Jets to move up to pick LB Rocky McIntosh; a third-round pick to Denver (through Atlanta) for RB T.J. Duckett.

Reviewing those deals, maybe it's a good thing the Redskins don't have a lot of chips to trade. Besides the Coles-for-Moss deal (a push) and the first-round pick for Campbell (to be determined), one can argue that the Redskins came up short on all of those trades.

Another common trait in those deals is Denver. If Mike Shanahan is calling Redskin Park over the next two months, Joe Gibbs and Vinny Cerrato shouldn't answer. The Broncos have won all three trades.


I spoke with Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis. A couple exerpts from a wide-ranging conversation.

* On the Redskins' offense: "We're on the threshold of taking that next step and being a great offensive team. ... We did some things extremely well that usually tend toward giving you an opportunity to be very successful. There are a lot of things we're really optimistic about."

* On QB Jason Campbell: "To go in halfway through the season without the benefit of taking the first-team reps during [the offseason program], training camp and the first nine games of the season and then playing, what he did was terrific. He did a tremendous job doing what he needed to do to get a flavor of being a starter. He really gives us reason for optimism."

* On RB Clinton Portis: "I think I have a better feel for Clinton now. I know watching him run up and down the field with Denver was a scary thing. If he would have had the same opportunities as Ladell, Clinton would have ended up in the Pro Bowl."

* On where WRs Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle-El fit in: "In this day and age, you need to spread the ball around. Defenses are sophisticated enough and good enough to negate your marquee players. You must be flexible and get the ball to a lot of people. They're as an important part of what we're doing as anybody."


* Cleveland (No. 3) and Detroit (No. 2) could end up swapping spots in the draft. If the Browns are worried that the Lions will take QB Brady Quinn, they'll probably be forced to trade into the second spot to take the Ohio native. The Lions, though, should take Wisconsin LT Joe Thomas.

* Miami (Fla.) TE Greg Olsen solidified his standing as the top tight end and might have moved into the first round with a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 seconds. As the Redskins' Chris Cooley has shown in his three pro seasons, tight ends who can get down the middle of the field are valuable assets. Olsen's numbers in college suffered because he never played with a great quarterback.

* Chicago LB Lance Briggs is reportedly ticked that he was franchised by the Bears and is prepared to sit out the offseason program and mini camp. Briggs wanted to test the open market in free agency. It's possible the Bears will shop Briggs to a team willing to give him a big-money contract. The Redskins don't figure to be one of the interested teams, though -- they don't have enough cap money to spend.

* San Francisco will probably make a run at Buffalo CB Nate Clements. The 49ers have more than $40 million to spend and also have 10 draft picks. Although the loss of offensive coordinator Norv Turner could hurt the development of QB Alex Smith, coach Mike Nolan and Co. are doing things the right way, building through the draft and filling specific needs in free agency. * Oakland's release of QB Aaron Brooks makes it more and more likely the Raiders will take a quarterback in the first round.

...Ryan O'Halloran covers the Redskins for The Washington Times.

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