Turner happy with Redskins' progress in camp


ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner declared yesterday's afternoon session his team's best practice.

Turner expressed this sentiment despite not having running back Stephen Davis participate in all contact drills, losing backup tight end Irv Smith and watching future Hall of Famers Darrell Green and Bruce Smith attend mostly in body alone.

Trace Turner's satisfaction to the Redskins defense, which looks improved from the 30th-ranked squad last season. It is still early, but the defense continues to make plays in practice, with Shawn Barber and Champ Bailey intercepting Brad Johnson passes yesterday.

Defenses at this point in camp are generally ahead of offenses. But with the new faces on defense and old faces on offense, the balance of power for the Redskins would appear to be with the offense.

So far, though, it has been about even.

"From a general standpoint, that was the best practice we had at camp," Turner said. "It was very, very physical. I think the day off helped our guys. They came out this afternoon and guys were running hard, guys were blocking physical. And it was evenly matched. I thought both sides won their share of battles."

Turner did not seem at all bothered that eight-year veteran Smith had left the team. Smith was listed third on the depth chart, but with his experience, it was expected that he would eventually back up tight end Stephen Alexander this season.

James Jenkins now will likely retain the top backup spot, and Turner said he will not be actively looking for a player to fill Smith's spot. Not that much is out there since former Pro Bowl tight end Ben Coates signed with the Ravens. Rookie Zeron Flemister, Joe Zelenka and Chris Smith are the other tight ends.

"If somebody comes available, we'll look at him," Turner said. "But we are going to get the players here ready to play."

The effect Smith's departure will have on the offense? None according to passing coach Terry Robiskie, because Smith was not guaranteed a spot on the team anyway. Smith started 13 games for Cleveland last season after playing a year in San Francisco and five in New Orleans. His most productive season came in 1995 when he caught 45 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't know if Irv was here long enough on the team to say that we lost a part of the team," Robiskie said. "Irv, and I'm not being disrespectful, was not here long enough. He wasn't part of the team. He was trying to make the team."

A major part of the team in Davis practiced in few contact drills, taking it light because of a high ankle sprain that forced him out of the final two regular season games last season.

Davis dressed, but joined Green and Bruce Smith in watching most of the live action. The ankle is getting better and there was a chance that Davis would participate, but Turner limited him in his second practice since signing a one-year contract Saturday.

Turner said he is going to rest Smith and Green periodically during training camp.

Their absences did not hurt the defense all that much yesterday. Bailey, who had struggled with the increased looks he'd been getting because the quarterbacks had been shying away from Deion Sanders on the other side, had his best day. Bailey broke up a couple of passes and had a juggling interception.

It has been a ball-hawking defense so far, grabbing many interceptions in this first week of work off Johnson. The real test, according to strong safety Sam Shade, will come when the Redskins defense lines up against a different team, which happens Friday when they take on the Ravens in a scrimmage at FedEx Field.

"We've had our times," Shade said. "But our offense has had theirs. It's been good for both sides. We've won our battles and they won theirs."

NOTES: Backup defensive end Nolan Harrison sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee in yesterday's afternoon session and had a magnetic resonance imaging last night to find out the extent of the damage. Harrison's injury appears to be the most significant of a number of minor injuries including wide receiver Jammie Deece (sprained ankle), guard Jon Osterhout (sprained rotator cuff), tight end Chris Smith (sprained ankle) and guard Michael Moore (sprained ankle). All are listed as day-to-day.

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