Barker wins punt competition

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ASHBURN, Va. - As the Washington Redskins announced their first round of cuts yesterday, Bryan Barker emerged as the biggest winner.

Barker, a 14-year veteran who has spent the past two seasons with Washington, was the only punter at Redskins Park after the team released David Leaverton yesterday.

Barker, who defeated Brent Bartholomew in a punt-off during Washington's seven-point loss to the New England Patriots on Aug. 16, preserved his status with the team when he averaged 52.3 yards on three punts Saturday night against the Ravens.

Leaverton averaged 42 yards on three punts.

"I like to think of myself as a guy who can take advantage of circumstances, no matter what they are," said Barker, who last year averaged 40.1 yards on 48 punts in a season cut short when he suffered a broken nose on a muffed field-goal attempt against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. "Sometimes you can't overcome them. Last year was a culmination of a lot of weird things to me and to the whole team."

Special teams coach Mike Stock said the preseason competition has benefited Barker, who endured his worst year since 1990, when he averaged 38.7 yards on 64 punts for the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I don't think he was happy with the way he performed a year ago," Stock said of Barker. "There was a lack of consistency - something that was really not his style. ... I think he wanted to get back to that point, and I think he did."

Besides Leaverton, Washington also waived wide receivers Scott Cloman, Sean Dillard and Richmond Flowers, offensive linemen Tre Johnson and Rod Jones, fullback Thad Buttone, defensive lineman Nic Clemons and linebacker Shamar Finney.

The team must release five more players by 4 p.m. today.

McCullough hanging on

Running back Sultan McCullough is making it difficult for the Redskins to cut him.

The undrafted rookie from Southern California leads all Washington tailbacks in yards (95) and attempts (20) in the preseason and has one of the team's three rushing touchdowns. Starter Trung Canidate has the other two.

McCullough's play caught the attention of coach Steve Spurrier, who admitted he didn't know much about the rookie until offensive coordinator Hue Jackson - who held the same position with the Trojans between 1997 and 2000 - shared his perspective.

"I've got a feeling that if we have to release him, he's certainly going to get picked up somewhere [with] the way he's flashed his speed and running ability," Spurrier said. "So we're trying to find a way to keep him on the team somehow."

One destination could be the practice squad, but McCullough, who led the Trojans in rushing three consecutive seasons, is aiming for a special teams job.

"I'm trying to play anything to make this team," said McCullough, whose only blemish this preseason was a fumbled reception late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. "I know I'm a hard worker, and I'm going to play hard. I'm not going to quit."

Arrington, Haley OK

Linebacker LaVar Arrington (unspecified leg injury) and defensive tackle Jermaine Haley (ankle sprain) missed practice yesterday, but Spurrier said the injuries weren't serious.

Spurrier also said the coaching staff would use Thursday's final exhibition contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars as an opportunity to evaluate players on the bubble of making the team's 53-player roster.

Spurrier said the starters would play the first quarter, with reserves getting the remaining time. Quarterback Danny Wuerffel will play at least a half, and running back Ladell Betts, who rushed six times for 10 yards Saturday in his first preseason action, also will get a significant amount of playing time.

Missing Vick, Pennington

With quarterbacks Chad Pennington (fractured left wrist) of the New York Jets and Michael Vick (broken right fibula) of the Atlanta Falcons sidelined for at least the first four weeks of the regular season, Washington will meet the Jets on Sept. 4 and the Falcons on Sept. 14 without their starting quarterbacks.

What does that mean for Kerry Collins, whose New York Giants visit FedEx Field in Week 3 on Sept. 21?

"They need to hold him out this week," Spurrier said before turning serious. "No, we never like to see guys get hurt. Joe Paterno [once] said, 'You want to beat the other guy with all their best players, and you want the other team to play well, and you want the other team to push you to play your best.' And when you win like that, that is rewarding and satisfying."

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