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Redskins' defense faces stiff Week 1 test


ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber said he isn't concerned with what team is on the other side of the ball in the season opener Sunday.

He should be. It is Carolina, the same team that ran up 36 points last season at FedEx Field. The Panthers had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the 38-36 loss to the Redskins last October.

Quarterback Steve Beuerlein, running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka and receiver Muhsin Muhammad all return Sunday, though they will face an improved Redskins defense that added three starting free agents and the draft's No. 2 pick in linebacker LaVar Arrington.

The influx of talent eases any worries for Barber.

"We face this game like we face any other game," Barber said. "It is not about them being Carolina. We want to really focus on ourselves and what we have to do as a defense. We want to stop them. We don't want them to pass the ball."

Last year against the Panthers, the Redskins did not stop the pass or the run. Beuerlein deserves much of the credit. He went 23-of-47 for 334 yards and a touchdown.

Many teams had trouble stopping Beuerlein last season. The 14-year veteran had his best year, throwing for 4,436 yards and 36 touchdowns. Beuerlein became only the 11th quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in one season. He was second in quarterback rating (94.6) behind St. Louis' Kurt Warner (109.2) and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.

Beuerlein, though, may have experienced his finest hour during the preseason, when he kept together a team after a number of negative incidents.

The Panthers had to deal with the aftermath of former wide receiver Rae Carruth's arrest. Carruth was charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend late last year.

Carolina lost kicker John Kasay for the season after a knee injury during training camp. Kasay was one of four players that sustained season-ending injuries during training camp. Wide receiver Patrick Jeffers, who tore up his knee, was the biggest loss.

Jeffers finished last season with five-straight 100-yard games and became a viable second option behind Muhammad.

Through it all, Beuerlein has remained positive about the chances of the Panthers reaching the postseason.

"We don't feel like we are being given a whole lot of respect going into this season," Beuerlein said. "We felt like we earned a certain amount of respect based on what we did last year - to come back and really be on the upswing, making some significant progress. But with the recent rash of negative things that have happened to us, we haven't gotten as much respect as maybe we were hoping for. So the bottom line is now we have to go out and re-establish the fact that we are a good football team."

A win over the Redskins would do it. For that to happen, Beuerlein will need another big game. Even without Jeffers, Beuerlein still has Muhammad, who last year established himself as one of the league's top receivers.

The Beuerlein-to-Muhammad connection was as good as any in the league, and the fifth-year receiver made his first Pro Bowl appearance last year after catching 96 passes for 1,253 yards.

"He's had two really good back-to-back years," Redskins coach Norv Turner said of Muhammad. "I think that is the key against any good, young player. He's made big plays against us.

"The offense he is in certainly takes advantage of his skills, but he would be good in any offense."

Said cornerback Deion Sanders, who will have primary coverage against Muhammad: "He's good. He's been good for years. I played against him at Dallas, and he was tough. He is a very physical receiver."

Muhammad is as physical at receiver as Biakabutuka is at running back. He rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns in just one half last year against the Redskins.

Biakabutuka was coming off a knee injury, so Panthers coach George Seifert choose to play him only the first half. He is now healthy and could carry the load for the whole game.

"You don't want any team to get the momentum," Barber said. "So the main focus is to stop the run.

"As far as this being Carolina, we want to stop everybody that comes into our house."

NOTES: Turner said he plans to play Arrington "a lot" in Sunday's game. Arrington is backing up strong-side linebacker Greg Jones. ... Running back Skip Hicks (knee) did not take part in team drills yesterday. He is listed as questionable for Sunday. ... Though the Redskins have only four receivers on the roster, Sanders said he has no interest in playing receiver. "I think I'll get all my balls on the punt return."

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