ASHBURN, Va. - The jigsaw puzzle that is the Washington Redskins offensive line is slowly getting pieced together.
Offensive tackle Chris Samuels, who missed three preseason games because of a sprained ankle, practiced yesterday and then pronounced himself ready to play in the team's season opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at FedEx Field.
"It felt pretty good out there," said Samuels, a first-round draft pick in 2000. "I don't think it will affect me at all. I think I'll go out there and play well."
His return could solidify a unit that drew unwanted attention after allowing the New England Patriots to sack Danny Wuerffel five times in a 28-14 loss in the teams' final preseason game.
Seventh-year pro Larry Moore will anchor the line at center, and Brenden Stai - who came over in a trade from the Detroit Lions almost two weeks ago - performed admirably at right guard after only two practices with the team.
And with Jon Jansen prepared to start his 51st straight career game at right tackle and 2002 Pro Bowl starter Samuels at left tackle, the Redskins seem to have the ingredients to give Sunday's starting quarterback, Shane Matthews, the pass protection he needs to succeed in Steve Spurrier's Run-N-Gun offense.
The only question is at left guard, where former Ravens lineman Kipp Vickers is vying with David Loverne and Ross Tucker for the starting role.
Samuels said he practiced with Loverne yesterday, but Spurrier said no decision had been made on who would start Sunday.
"Maybe whoever practices the best this week will be the starter," the coach said in a news conference yesterday. "They're all three pretty good players. There's not a huge difference out there."
After the team reached the league's mandated 53-man roster limit Sunday, several questions were answered yesterday.
With Robert Royal (ankle) on injured reserve and out for the season and Walter Rasby (knee) not scheduled to return for at least three weeks, Zeron Flemister and Leonard Stephens will split time at tight end Sunday.
Also, Bryan Johnson will start at fullback with sixth-round pick Rock Cartwright getting a few plays as the backup.
Spurrier also said he envisioned wide receiver Jacquez Green handling both kick return and punt return duties. Spurrier noted that second-string running back Kenny Watson could return some kickoffs and said cornerback Champ Bailey would go out with the punt return team a few times, too.
And Derrius Thompson has earned the right to start opposite Rod Gardner at the No. 2 wide receiver spot, Spurrier said.
"He's been more productive than any of our other receivers," Spurrier said. "He deserves to start. It's as simple as that."
Spurrier thanked Redskins fans for being patient with the team despite two miserable first-half performances at FedEx Field.
"We did not perform very well offensively or defensively in the first half of the two home games," the former University of Florida coach said. "I realize in pro football, it's common to boo. Our fans have been very patient, and hopefully, we're going to give you something to yell about in the first half [Sunday]."
Washington rallied from a 17-0 first-half deficit to edge the Pittsburgh Steelers, 35-34, on Aug. 18 before falling to New England on Thursday.
The Redskins signed five players they waived Sunday to the practice squad: offensive tackle Reggie Coleman, running back Robert Gillespie, defensive end Bernard Jackson, defensive back Ricot Joseph and wide receiver Justin Skaggs. ... Spurrier's affection for the Gators is still strong. Although No. 6 Florida faces a stiff challenge in its home game Saturday against the defending national champion and top-ranked Miami Hurricanes, Spurrier sided with his Gators. "I think the Gators have a very good chance at home," he said. "It's going to be a fun game to watch."
Next for Redskins
Opponent: Arizona Cardinals in season opener for both teams
Site: FedEx Field, Landover
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 5/WJFK (106.7 FM)
Line: Redskins by 7