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Burning Questions

Top picks making mark early in training camp

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Latest: Wednesday August 02, 2000 09:43 PM

  Chris Samuels Will offensive tackle Chris Samuels be the big impact man for the Redskins? Ezra O. ShawAllsport

By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated

ASHBURN, Va. -- Here are three burning questions that are still very much in the process of being answered at the Washington Redskins' carnival-like training camp at Redskin Park. Snyderville, as this tent city has been dubbed, is alive with fans and football on a steamy August afternoon. (Observation: If Dan Snyder could figure out a way to rent out the airspace over the team complex, he'd do it). Sports Illustrated's Don Banks checks in with a few questions and answers on his tour of NFL training camps:

1. Question: Two weeks into training camp, are those high-impact first-round draft choices, LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, making any?

Answer: Enough for now. Samuels much more so than Arrington. Last week in a scrimmage/joint workouts with neighborhood rival Baltimore, Samuels dominated everybody the Ravens threw at him, looking smooth and comfortable. He's officially listed as the second-team offensive left tackle, but that's just on paper.

Veteran starting left tackle Andy Heck is still sidelined with a back problem, and is working to strengthen his back with a target date of returning to the field in a week or two. He needn't hurry. Samuels looks ready from day one to handle the No. 1 job.

Arrington, however, hasn't completely dug out of the hole he created for himself by missing the first five days of camp due to his contract situation. The Penn State star has looked a bit sluggish and is working as the second-team strongside linebacker, behind starter Greg Jones. While the coaches aren't being as tough on him as they were early on, he's not getting the red-carpet treatment either.

By the regular-season opener, or soon thereafter, expect Arrington to be on the field at the strongside slot, hopefully for the Redskins wreaking havoc. You can bet the ranch the Redskins don't want to see him earning his millions on the sidelines.

2. Question: Is there any reason to worry about running back Stephen Davis going lightly in deference to late 1999 ankle injury? Is his wheel not healed?

Answer: Probably not, but stay tuned. Not that anybody's counting, but it has been seven months and 13 days since Davis first injured his ankle in Washington's 14th regular-season game last season at Indianapolis. Davis is putting in his practice work and nobody's hitting any panic button. But going on eight months is a little long even for a high ankle sprain to be a topic of conversation.

The Redskins say Davis is fine and nearly back to 100 percent. Still, Washington is taking it slow with its franchise running back. He won't play in Friday's preseason opener at Tampa Bay, and he isn't receiving quite his usual load of work at this point in camp.

The Redskins say they are playing it cautious because they can afford to. Davis won't play until next week at home against New England and may not see any substantial action until Washington's third game, at Cleveland.

Still, between his messy contract situation and working to return from last December's injury, this has the makings of one of those years for Davis.

The Redskins would surprise no one if they waited until they were certain Davis was back in his 1,405-yard rushing form of 1999 before signing him to the long-term contract he seeks. For now he's playing under the one-year, $3.53 million franchise-player deal he signed 10 days ago.

3. Question: Speaking of contract situations, when are the Redskins going to turn their attention to quarterback Brad Johnson's long-term future with the team?

Answer: Apparently no time soon. After doling out a gazillion dollars this offseason for all kinds of upper echelon players, the Redskins say they'll get around to Johnson at some point, probably after settling Davis' situation. But their inactivity is speaking volumes about now.

Here's the likely scenario: Having just wrapped up Jeff George with a wholly un-backup-like four-year, $18.25 million contract, Washington is waiting to see what develops this season on the quarterback front before it decides on Johnson.

Wary of committing too soon to Johnson for the long term, like Minnesota did with Randall Cunningham in 1998, the Redskins figure they don't have anything to lose by waiting to see if Johnson or George is their man later this season.

But that philosophy holds its own risk factor. If Johnson has another big season, and the Redskins don't approach him early enough, he might opt to wait and test the market.

As Johnson reminded me Wednesday after practice, a long-term commitment is a two-way street. He doesn't have to talk to them if they don't want to talk to him. If the Redskins play their hand too close to the vest, don't be surprised if Johnson feels spurned and gives the Redskins a little bit of their own silent treatment.

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