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Thursday, November 2, 2006
All hands available: Redskins finally have a healthy defense

Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- When Washington Redskins assistant coach Gregg Williams is asked about his starting players on defense, he often chides the questioner by saying something like, "We don't have starters." It's his way of reminding everyone that he rotates players frequently, depending on the situation.

There was no such admonition Thursday, it was pointed out to the coach that he will have all 11 of his projected starters available for the first time this season when the Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

"It's been since training camp," Williams said with a smile.

Injuries to Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave'a and Lemar Marshall have caused the Redskins to shuffle personnel every game. This week, for the first time, every defensive player on the roster was available for practice.

"It could make a big difference -- everybody on the same page, and the familiarity with each other," said Marshall, who missed one game with a severe ankle sprain. "That's what you want. That's what you go through training camp and start the season thinking you'll have. With everybody there come Sunday, we could be put in a better situation to make plays."

The defense has been consistently poor this season, ranking 26th overall and 30th against the pass. The Redskins (2-5) have allowed more plays of 40-plus yards than any team in the NFL, are last in sacks and tied for last in takeaways. No unit -- the front four, the linebackers, the defensive backs -- has been exempt from blame for the current three-game losing streak.

Having everyone on hand will allow Williams to call any of the 20-plus packages on his play sheet. Even so, manpower alone will not cure the defense's woes.

Most of the regulars -- including safeties Adam Archuleta and Sean Taylor, cornerback Rogers, linebackers Marshall and Warrick Holdman, and defensive end Andre Carter -- are having subpar seasons. The Redskins are in a maddening cycle: Lack of a pass rush hurts the secondary's ability to cover, and the secondary's inability to cover isn't allowing time for a pass rush.

"Looking at the stats this year, we just haven't made enough plays and we've given up too many," Marshall said. "That's the big difference. I'm not really a stat guy -- I think it comes down to wins and losses -- but when you don't have the stats and you're losing, you've always got to say you took a step back."

During the bye week, while Williams was re-evaluating the defense, he gave the players some homework. They had to grade themselves on a worksheet, examining what they did right and wrong from their own reviews of game tapes.

"It's good for them to have honest opinions of themselves and have time to really study their body mannerisms and the tips that maybe they're giving the opposing quarterback, receiver or lineman," Williams said.

Players said the homework took only 20 minutes or so to complete, and Williams said the reports were satisfactory, although he noted that "some of the handwriting wasn't very good and some of the spelling wasn't very good."

Asked how he graded himself, linebacker Marcus Washington said: "There were some bad things that could be corrected."

The Redskins are facing a quarterback, Dallas' Tony Romo, who will be making his second NFL start. It would seem the perfect time to rediscover the aggressive approach that made the defense a top 10 unit in 2004 and 2005.

"We've got to come back and focus and take a one-play-at-a-time mind-set, play aggressively and nasty," Griffin said, "the way we're used to playing -- and try to get things turned around."< ^Note:@ While the defense is healthy, the offense has several players hobbling. WR Santana Moss did not practice again Thursday and remains questionable on the injury report. WR Brandon Lloyd (shoulder), RT Jon Jansen (calf) and WR David Patten (hamstring) missed a portion of practice but are all listed as probable. ^