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http://www.washtimes.com/sports/20030806-111029-755r.htm

Barker boots bad memories

By Mark Zuckerman and Jody Foldesy

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Bryan Barker replayed the 2002 season in his mind over and over, trying to figure out what caused the worst season of his 13-year career as an NFL punter. Eventually, he decided to forget about it and move on.

"Last season was an absolute anomaly," the Washington Redskins veteran said. "Anything and everything that could go wrong last year went wrong. And I really have no explanation for it. I'm not a superstitious guy, but it was my 13th year — maybe that was it. I saw things last year that happened to me and happened to our team that I have never seen before in my career."

One of the most consistent punters in the league, Barker endured last season with a gross average of 40.1 yards per kick that was more than 2 yards less than his career average. His net average of 30.0 yards represented an 8-yard drop-off from his career standard.

Mercifully perhaps, his sad season ended early. In the second quarter of Washington's Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas — the Redskins' 13th game — Barker took a knee to his nose and sustained a gruesome open nasal fracture.

After watching his special teams struggle across the board last year, coach Steve Spurrier vowed to shore things up, with the punting situation atop his list. Although the Redskins tried out several rookies and showed serious interest in drafting Ohio State's Andy Groom in the seventh round (they ended up taking unheralded quarterback Gibran Hamdan instead), the Redskins decided to give Barker one more shot.

The only other punter in camp is Brent Bartholomew, who has seen very limited action in two previous NFL seasons. Barker clearly has a leg up on the competition so far, but he said he's not paying attention to that — or to the coaching staff's offseason vow to improve its kicking game.

"I can't control anything other than what I do on the field," he said. "I have an opportunity to be here, which means somebody here believes in me. Hopefully, I've earned that from the previous years I've played in this league. I know what I can do."

Now or never for Tre

Guard Tre Johnson acknowledged that he is running out of chances to be an NFL player. His string of injuries in recent years continues with a strained Achilles' tendon, and he has yet to work out in training camp.

Johnson's plan is to take advantage of the fact that he isn't expected to start and attempt to get fully healthy for the first time since the early part of 2000. He believes trying to rush back from each setback has helped keep him injured.

"I'm trying to come back 100 percent," Johnson said. "I'm not as counted on as I was in the past, and this is a good opportunity for me to come back as healthy as I can humanly, possibly be."

Johnson, long a fan favorite, returned last October to shore up Washington's poor guard play. He was basically healthy, after overcoming problems with both knees, but not in shape. He didn't get into the starting lineup until three games remained.

This spring's re-signing a few days into free agency gave hope that the Redskins finally would have a healthy "banger." But he missed much of offseason practice with a strained hamstring, then injured his Achilles' in the opening days of camp.

Now Johnson's future is in doubt. Derrick Dockery, Wilbert Brown and Lennie Friedman have taken his snaps in camp, and his reputation for injuries might keep other NFL teams from signing him. Thus, this rehab might be for nothing.

"If it's not it, it's real close to it," Johnson said. "I can't afford to go out there at 65, 70 percent and just fight. I can fight. It's in my nature to do so. But I want to get out there and play ball again."

Extra points

Receivers Cliff Russell (knee surgery) and Taylor Jacobs (sore groin) returned to practice after missing the last two days. Running back Kenny Watson also returned from his sprained knee to participate in all contact drills. Watson's status for Saturday's game at Carolina, however, has not been determined.

Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter sat out his second straight day while suffering the lingering effects from last season's knee surgery. ...

Spurrier said he hopes to get both Patrick Ramsey and Rob Johnson 10 to 15 pass attempts during the preseason opener. Danny Wuerffel is expected to play third and get eight to 10 attempts.

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Hamdan is headed for the practice squad and will probably be claimed by Dallas off of it. Dallas wanted to pick up Hamdan as a FA and the Skins beat them to it by using a #7 pick on him.

With a 23 year old starting qb, I think the Skins should have selected Groom or another position player and pass on a developmental qb that late in the draft.

We didn't need to funnel another younger qb into the system just yet.

Johnson and Wuerffel (who I thought would be back) were going to be the primary backups in 2003 anyway.

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