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'Skins face Panthers, expectations


ASHBURN, Va. - He was on the verge of escaping.

Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner could sense his final media session before the season opener wrapping up.

And it was concluding without any use of the words Super Bowl - until the second-to-last question.

"I thought we would get through an interview without bringing that up," Turner said with a laugh.

He should have known better. The times Turner will make it through an interview without the team's lofty expectations arising will be few and far between this season. The Redskins are 10 1/2 -point favorites in today's game at 1 at FedEx Field against the Carolina Panthers, a testament to how good many think the Redskins should be. Carolina won five of its last seven games last year, and has a 4,000-yard passer in Steve Beuerlein, and a 1,000-yard receiver in Muhsin Muhammad.

People do not only expect the Redskins to win but win big as the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams did last season.

"The whole key is you just have to win games," Turner said. "It doesn't matter how you win it. If you kick a field goal on the last play. Or going into the fourth quarter if you have control of the game. In November, December, nobody is going to say 'How did you win the football game?' if you managed to win it.

"The fans and the media get more involved in who is the favorite, who isn't the favorite. Who is expected to have a big season, and who isn't. The players and coaches have a true understanding of how difficult it is to win in this league."

With the influx of talent, it should not be as difficult to win this season as it was last.

The Redskins went 10-6 last year, won their first-round playoff game over Detroit before losing, 14-13, to Tampa Bay in the NFC semifinals.

Owner Daniel Snyder signed cornerback Deion Sanders, defensive end Bruce Smith, safety Mark Carrier and quarterback Jeff George in the off-season to get the team to the next level.

The Redskins also used the No. 2 and 3 picks in the draft to get linebacker LaVar Arrington and tackle Chris Samuels.

All except George are expected to get significant time in today's game. The defensive players especially will be counted on to improve over last year's game against Carolina in which the Redskins gave up 36 points but still managed to win by two.

"Anytime you play a team that you did not play well against or you lost to, you have to reverse everything," said cornerback Darrell Green, who moves into a backup role for the first time in his 18-year career. "They ran the ball well and threw the ball well.

"We have other players. We think we are a better defense."

A big part, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, will not be completely healthy. Wilkinson is expected to play, but has been slowed by a knee injury in the preseason.

Both defensive lines have some of the biggest names in the league. The Panthers brought Reggie White out of a one-year retirement during the off-season. White and defensive tackle Eric Swann are expected to see limited action, but if the two start having success against the Redskins' offensive line, Turner said they could play more.

That may happen. The Redskins are without center Cory Raymer, who partially tore two ligaments in his right knee during training camp, and right guard Tre Johnson. Johnson is serving a one-game suspension for his part in a fight during a playoff game last season.

Jay Leeuwenburg will start in Johnson's place. With rookie Samuels starting at left tackle, Jon Jansen and Keith Sims are the only lineman who played the majority of the season last year.

"I've been watching Reggie, he's still doing that hip-toss move throwing big offensive tackles on their backside," Samuels said. "Reggie's still got it."

Along with White and Swann, the group will have to contend with Sean Gilbert and Chuck Smith, who had 10 sacks last year with the Atlanta Falcons. Smith will be lined up against Samuels.

"When you see a guard 5 yards in the backfield, when you see a tackle laying on the ground and the guy who he was blocking making the tackle, those are the guys that we're playing against," running back Stephen Davis said. "If anybody thinks this game is going to be easy, I hate it for him because these guys come ready to play."

NOTES: Raymer, fullback Mike Sellers, running back Skip Hicks and cornerback Lloyd Harrison are the early inactives. Sellers (shoulder) and Hicks (knee) were held out of practices last week.

Carolina at Washington

Time: 1 p.m., Ch. 5

Line: Redskins by 10 1/2

Vs. spread in '99: Panthers 10-6; Redskins 10-8

Series: Redskins lead 4-0.

Last meeting: Redskins beat Panthers, 38-36, on Oct. 3, 1999 at Washington.

Outlook: In the best NFC matchup of the day, Washington begins what it expects to be a season that will end in the Super Bowl. Panthers had the NFL's surprise No. 2 passer last season in Steve Beuerlein. But did that presage another big season, or was it a career year? Redskins appear to have too much talent to lose home opener.

Notable: The Panthers' Reggie White (192 1/2 ), Chuck Smith (58 1/2 ) and Eric Swann (45.5) have combined 296 1/2 career sacks


PANTHERS: Out: G James Dexter (triceps); LB Hannibal Navies (knee). Probable: RB Natrone Means (knee); DE Chuck Smith (knee).

REDSKINS: Out: C Cory Raymer (knee). Questionable: RB Skip Hicks (knee); RB Mike Sellers (shoulder). Probable: LB Shawn Barber (knee); RB Chad Dukes (knee); TE James Jenkins (back); DT Dan Wilkinson (knee).

NFL rankings:


Total Rush Pass Total Rush Pass

Carolina 6 20 2 26 24 23

Washington 2 9 6 30 27 26

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