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Preseason finale on tap

Following a walk through, the Patriots will travel to Washington Wednesday afternoon in preparation for tomorrow's preseason finale against the Redskins at FedEx Field at 8 p.m.

When the two teams take the field tomorrow night each will be looking to iron out the kinks in the final dress rehearsal before the kickoff of the 2002 NFL season. While the Patriots will be making last minute decisions in terms of final roster spots and cuts, the new-look Redskins are working to make a name for themselves under first-year Head Coach Steve Spurrier. In fact, Washington has yet to name a starting quarterback as two former Florida Gators, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, battle for the job in Spurrier's Fun n' Gun offense.

The quarterback competition actually started with four players that also included Sage Rosenfels (traded to Miami) and rookie Patrick Ramsey. But following the trade and with Ramsey's late start to training camp, only the two ex-Gators have a chance of earning the nod, although both players will likely see significant action sometime this season.

In the preseason Wuerffel has completed 26-of-41 passes for 395 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Matthews has completed 39-of-63 passes for 429 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Both players have played in three games, with Matthews starting two and Wuerffel one.

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            Overall in the preseason Spurrier's offense has lived up to its reputation. The Redskins are 4-0, have the second ranked offense in the preseason and with a 37.5 points per game average became the first team in preseason history to average more than 35 points through four games.  

And to go along with Spurrier's passing game the team returns running back Stephen Davis who will look to eclipse 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the fourth consecutive season. Davis adds a unique twist to what, based on its results at Florida and other stops in Spurrier's coaching career, is potent passing system.

But as much as the Redskins are making impressions offensively, their defense has been nearly as impressive. In last week's 40-10 win over the Buccaneers the defense forced seven turnovers, including two for scores. Rookie defensive end Greg Scott picked up a fumble and ran 66 yards for a score in the third quarter and second-year linebacker Donte Curry returned an interception 20 yards in the fourth quarter. Under new assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' new defensive scheme the team has forced 12 turnovers and tallied 12 sacks to this point in the preseason.

The defense is led by a number of high-profile players at nearly every position. The strongest position lies at linebacker where 2002 Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington is now joined by free agent additions Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead. Trotter is a two-time Pro Bowler and Armstead has been to five of the postseason games. Last year, Arrington had a dominating campaign in just his second season in the league. He led the Redskins with 118 tackles (76 solo) and added three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

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            Three veterans in Bruce Smith, Dan Wilkinson and free agent addition Renaldo Wynn anchor the defensive line. Smith is returning to Washington for his 18th season and following his five sacks in 2001 has 186 in his career, behind only Reggie White's 198 in NFL history.  

In the defensive backfield the Skins have an impressive mix of youth and age. Two-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey and second-year player Fred Smoot combine to make a formidable pair at corner. Darrell Green who enters his 20th and final season in 2002 will ably back up the pair. Veteran safeties Sam Shade and David Terrell fill out the pass defense.

With the impressive mix of youth, experience and a defensive guru in Lewis, the Washington defense should be as interesting to watch this season as their offensive counterparts. If the team can get both sides of the ball working in unison under Spurrier, owner Daniel Snyder might finally get the type of results he has been looking for since buying the team in 1999.

Although the starters likely won't play much more than a quarter or so of action, though one never knows with Spurrier, the game will be a final test for all the players involved. Guys can use the opportunity to make or break their chances of earning a job. Chances are that at least one personnel decision made between now and the 53-man cutdown by 4 p.m. on Sunday will be affected by Thursday night's action. The final preseason game may not be a big deal in the eyes of the fans, but for the coaches, players and organizations it is the last warm-up lap before the big race.

Redskins Notes

As coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL from 1983-1985 Spurrier compiled a 35-19 record. His team became the first in professional football history to have a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. … The teams have met 14 times in the preseason with the Patriots holding a 9-5 series advantage. They have played five times in the regular season with the Redskins winning all five games. … The teams last met last preseason when the Patriots defeated the Redskins 33-13 in Foxborough. … Washington will wear their 70th Anniversary Season "retro" uniforms for all home games this season. The uniforms feature the spear-and-feather helmet logo, as well as jersey and pants colors that come from the 1960s midpoint of team history.

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