Redskins Report

The Redskins have replaced Champ Bailey as the punt returner with rookie Bruce Branch, who was promoted off the practice squad Tuesday. Branch returned 109 punts at Penn State, three for touchdowns, and averaged more than 10 yards a return.

Bailey said it wasn't returning punts that was his problem, ''but catching the ball was a problem.'' No one would argue: Bailey fumbled punts in consecutive games.

Funny thing is, he's being replaced because of his hands. Yet Steve Spurrier said he'd consider making him a receiver next year. Go figure.

. . . Redskins tackle Daryl Gardener was named the Quarterback Club's Player of the Year on Tuesday. It's well deserved as Gardener has been a savior for this defense. Imagine where they would be without his play inside.

Gardener is a different individual, but he hasn't been nowhere near the problem Miami made him out to be. One Dolphins beat writer called Gardener the ''oddest person'' he's ever covered. Redskins beat writers, including myself, have nothing but good things to say about him. He is different, but I can't say he's been bad or mean or disruptive with his teammates.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Gardener in the offseason. Will the Redskins sign him before free agency? He wants to stay and Washington wants to keep him, but can they work out a deal? We know this: Gardener understands that the Redskins gave him a chance when no one else would. We'll see how much that means to him.

By the way, one of those teams that didn't want Gardener is Houston. And Gardener remembers hearing the stories after he visited there: too out of shape, too big a risk, back still bothering him.

Think this game means something to him?

''It's not personal,'' he said. ''I would just like to play a good game just because I'm out of shape and my back problems and . . . you know what I mean without getting into too many things.''

. . . Is Jon Jansen staying or going? For the first time we're very cautiously optimistic that he might actually stay. Trust us: until this weekend, even Jansen knew he was gone. But if the Redskins make him a transition player, that might scare other teams from negotiating with him, fearing Washington would match any offer so why bother.

And that prompted Jansen's side to fax in a new contract, one that's far different than what they received earlier. Jansen still appears unhappy here, but part of it stemmed from what he believed was a lack of respect for what he's meant here. We're not certain that he's a goner anymore and the odds are still in favor of him leaving. But they've been reduced in Washington's favor.

. . . .Anyone who doesn't think Vinny Cerrato will have more power in the offseason isn't paying attention to what they've seen at Redskins Park lately. Cerrato, who was rarely in the building much of the season, has been there seemingly every day the past two weeks. Hmmm.

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