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Wary of Testaverde

With Pennington Out, Redskins Concerned About Jets Veteran

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 3, 2003; Page D01

The Washington Redskins know it could be a trap.

The team heard NFL experts call the injury to New York Jets starting quarterback Chad Pennington a stroke of luck for them, one that meant that the Redskins would face Vinny Testaverde -- who, two months shy of his 40th birthday, had admitted that his days as a starter were behind him -- in the NFL opener Thursday night at FedEx Field.

The Jets did not want to tie their fortunes to Testaverde this season. Coach Herman Edwards benched him four games into the club's 1-4 beginning last season, and Pennington led the team to an AFC East title and a second straight playoff appearance under Edwards. Pennington was the NFL's highest-rated passer as a third-year pro and seemed to have nothing but Pro Bowls in his future while Testaverde pondered the beginning of the end of his long and sometimes distinguished career.

Of course, that was before Pennington broke and dislocated his left wrist in a preseason game, an injury that is expected to keep him out until late in the season.

Now Testaverde is back in charge, and the Jets must fret about how to keep him upright and effective with Pennington sidelined. But the Redskins know they also have reasons to worry. Testaverde might not be the quarterback that his coach wanted to rely upon this season, but he has two Pro Bowls, 182 starts and 39,558 passing yards on his 16-year, four-team NFL résumé. He is fully capable of having a hot hand Thursday and giving the Redskins fits.

"We know we can be beat by a backup just as well as a starter," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're approaching the game the same way we'd approach it if Chad Pennington was in the game. Vinny Testaverde isn't exactly a fall-off quarterback. . . . It's been stated [among the Redskins players] a few times. It's definitely understood: You can't ever take anybody for granted. . . . He was the starter before Chad Pennington anyway. He could come out and really do some damage."

Said Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey: "I think he's got a lot in the tank. . . . You hear a lot about Pennington being a real smart quarterback. But Testaverde, he's passed for [almost] 40,000 yards. He's no letdown for them. He's going to be a good quarterback for them. We can't look at it any different and think less of him. We'd better not let that go to our heads. There's no big difference between him and Pennington that's very significant."

Testaverde's first task Thursday will be to regain his timing. He threw only one pass in a game last season after being benched, and he took only 21 snaps in the exhibition season this summer. The Jets had planned to get Testaverde about a dozen plays in the preaseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday on the heels of Pennington's injury five days before. But Edwards made a last-minute switch, withholding all his starters and telling his young players about 10 minutes before kickoff that the night would be theirs.

"He didn't maybe get the reps he needed," Edwards said in a conference call this week with Washington area reporters. "But 17 years of football -- he's seen a lot of reps. He's seen a lot of coverages. He's played a lot of football in his career, so I just think he'll be fine."

Testaverde acknowledged he could be a bit rusty, saying of his game sharpness: "Obviously it probably could be a little better, being that I haven't had many snaps this preseason. The plan was to get more snaps than I did, but it didn't work out that way. So we just have to make the most of it. It's an unfortunate situation with Chad getting hurt, but we have to make the best of it."

There had been rumblings in the offseason that Testaverde might be reunited in Dallas with former Jets coach Bill Parcells. But Parcells chose to stick with the quarterbacks he inherited in Dallas, Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson, and Testaverde said he didn't pay attention to the whispers about his possible departure after being told by Jets officials early in the offseason that he would stay.

"I know there was some talk about it, but never really on my end," Testaverde said. "When the season ended, this organization came to me and told me they wanted me to be here and be part of what they were trying to build toward winning a championship. I was very pleased with that and I felt comfortable. I felt like me staying was the right decision."

The Jets became Pennington's team last season. The young quarterback had entered the league with his top wide receiver, Laveranues Coles, and the two had superb chemistry from the moment Pennington entered the lineup. Pennington completed an NFL-best 68.9 percent of his passes. The Jets won seven of their final nine regular season games to capture the division title and beat the Indianapolis Colts, 41-0, in an AFC first-round playoff game before being eliminated by the Oakland Raiders.

"We needed a little something different," Edwards said of last season's quarterback switch. "I thought Chad was going to bring that to us. He did, and then all of a sudden we played a little bit better. We coached a little bit better. We got on a roll and then obviously the season speaks for itself, what we accomplished."

Entering this season, there was little reason for Testaverde to believe that he would be a starter again. But it didn't bother him too much, he said.

"I really felt comfortable with what I've accomplished in this league over the years that I've played, and knew I'm going to turn 40 this year," he said. "It's probably a little easier to let it go, given those circumstances, than some people might realize."

The chance that he didn't necessarily expect comes with Coles now a member of the Redskins, leaving Testaverde to work with a receiver corps headed by Curtis Conway, Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss. Edwards said that tailback Curtis Martin is healthy again after being plagued by ankle problems last season. According to guard Randy Thomas, another Jet turned Redskin, that gives Testaverde plenty at his disposal.

"He led us through some fights," Thomas said. "Vinny is going to fight."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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I think the Skins are being careful and smart about not giving anything to the Jets to pump them up. Of course Vinny has played a lot of snaps...but only recently was he really working at it. I think he stayed in shape, knows the playbooks....but timing is so key. In a way, we're lucky to face him before the rust comes off. We really need to focus on knocking him down a lot.

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Originally posted by MikeB

I've seen this all before though. Skins talk smart like they get it. Then they get on the field and it quickly becomes obvious that they didn't believe what they where saying.

Hopefully it'll be different this year.

Reading our players comments I was thinking the same exact thing. I hope we truly come out and look possessed the whole 60 minutes of football and not just part of it

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The key to shutting down Testaverde is take away the vertical game. Testaverde can't play the short game. He becomes impatient and tries to force things that aren't there. The longer downfield he is allowed to throw the better he is. If you keep the game inside of 20 yards, the Redskins should beat the Jets. If the Skins allow Vinny to stretch his arm, it could be trouble for the Skins.

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