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'Skins brace for Carrier suspension


ASHBURN, Va. - The NFL is expected to suspend Washington Redskins free safety Mark Carrier for his helmet-to-helmet hit against Carolina Panthers tight end Wesley Walls in the second quarter of Sunday's game.

If so, it would mark the third straight year that Carrier has been suspended. The league is expected to make an official announcement today.

Carrier's reputation for being a dirty player and past suspensions was probably what prompted the NFL to examine the hit, which did not draw a personal foul. It did not appear based on replays as though Carrier intentionally struck Walls with his helmet.

Walls was groggy after the play, but was able to continue. Strong safety Sam Shade said he talked with Carrier about the hit on the bench.

"Mark and I went to the sidelines after the play, and one of the guys on the team said, 'That was a big hit,' " Shade said. "Mark looked at me and said, 'Sam, I was going for the ball actually. You would have known it if I was going for the hit.' So he was going for the ball. It is kind of funny that the league looks at it the other way.

"He wasn't going for the hit. I think the people in Carolina got upset because their guy was laying down."

The suspension would elevate Matt Stevens into the starting lineup for Sunday's game in Detroit. Stevens played in 15 games last year and led the team with six interceptions. He came to the Redskins late in the 1998 season after spending most of the year with Philadelphia. Stevens has one start in 21 games as a Redskin. Tyronne Drakeford would take Stevens' place in the nickel package.

Stevens said he did not find out that he may start Sunday until mid-afternoon yesterday.

"Sam started talking to me and said, 'You ready?' And I said 'For what?' Then he said, 'They suspended Mark,' " Stevens said.

Carrier spent much of the day at the league offices in New York pleading his case before he arrived at Redskins Park late in the afternoon. After meeting with the coaches, Carrier declined to talk to reporters and left the facility.

His loss would hurt the Redskins on many fronts. The Lions have three quality wide receivers, all of whom are fast enough to stretch any defense.

Herman Moore is a four-time Pro Bowl pick. Johnnie Morton is coming off three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and Germane Crowell led the Lions in catches (81), yards (1,338) and touchdowns (seven) last season.

Carrier is familiar with them all after spending the past three seasons in Detroit. Carrier is the one who makes the defensive calls. Stevens and Shade would be responsible for that in his absence.

"I guess I'll have to be a little bit more vocal," Shade said. "But you know, with Matt coming in, he's an experienced guy. He's been playing a long time. He has starting experience. I won't have to do as much as I would with a younger guy.

"Mark, he's our true center-field guy. That changes things for us."

Carrier was suspended last season for an unnecessary-roughness penalty against the Chicago Bears. He was suspended the year before that for another helmet-to-helmet hit. He has been fined one other time and warned by the NFL on one other occasion for leading with the head.

The latest hit was not as clear-cut as some of the others because it appeared that Carrier was playing the ball.

"Mark gets both hands on the ball; his vision is clearly directed to the ball," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "There's contact. I don't know that he could have avoided the contact the way it happened and still played the ball."

NOTES: Guard Tre' Johnson returned to practice yesterday after missing all of last week and the Carolina game. Johnson served a one-game suspension for his part in a fight during the playoff game against Detroit last season. Jay Leeuwenburg, who started for Johnson against the Panthers, will back up center Mark Fischer. ... Lions quarterback Charlie Batch said he expects to play Sunday. Batch missed the Lions' season-opening, 14-10 victory over New Orleans with a quadriceps injury. Former Ravens quarterback Stoney Case filled in and would do so again if Batch is unable to play. Case failed to produce an offensive touchdown last week. Batch signed a four-year, $31 million contract extension yesterday that includes a $13 million signing bonus. The Lions may also have Herman Moore, who missed the Saints game with a shoulder injury suffered in the final preseason game. Moore practiced yesterday.

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