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For Coaches, Decision Time Nears

The evaluation process began eight months ago, shortly after Joe Gibbs returned as head coach. The coaching staff has watched countless hours of film and monitored the players' progress through three mini-camps.

Gibbs met individually with players, getting a feel for their personalities and how they fit in with the team. And coaches have had four weeks of a demanding training camp, not to mention three preseason games so far.

On Friday night, when the Redskins square off against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Gibbs will have one more opportunity to evaluate players-particularly the first-year players and undrafted rookies on the squad-before the team must reduce its roster from 90 players to 65 by Tuesday. The Redskins will be able to keep 6-8 extra players due to NFL Europe roster exemptions for the Aug. 31 cut-down.

It's possible that some of the cuts could be announced as early as Saturday so those players released have plenty of opportunities to try and catch on with another NFL team.

Cut-down day is always difficult for coaches, but it should be no surprise that Gibbs seems well prepared.

"As soon as you start the year, you're starting to think about who's going to be in the final group, who are the people we're going to be able to keep," Gibbs said. "That's always in the back of your mind. We've got a real hard-working group, but we've been looking at that for quite a while. We'll continue to look through this game and make some decisions. That part of it you don't like, but it's something you have to do."

Of course, all eyes will be on the Redskins' quarterback competition, as Patrick Ramsey gets his second preseason start. Mark Brunell, who started the Denver and Miami preseason contests, is also expected to see action.

Apart from the Brunell-Ramsey competition, plenty of players will be fighting for jobs in Friday's game.

Running back Ladell Betts is expected to see his first preseason game action. Betts has been battling through a hamstring injury and coaches have not had many chances to evaluate him.

"He's a very talented guy and a very good receiver coming out of the backfield," Gibbs said. "But when you get a limited number of looks like that, it's hard."

Said Betts: "I'm sure there'll be a little pressure--from the standpoint of the coaches watching me and what I can do. But at the same time, I'm not going to go out there and overdo anything. I'm just going to let the game happen."

Betts, a former second-round draft pick, is competing for the backup job to Clinton Portis with several backs, including Rock Cartwright, John Simon and Sultan McCullough. Each brings different skills to the position and each has shown flashes during the Redskins' three preseason games. Chances are, at least one of the four backs behind Portis will be waived.

McCullough hopes his speed makes an impression on coaches.

"I'm doing whatever I can do to get better, whether it's on offense or special teams," McCullough said. "Hopefully I'll still be here, but if not there are 31 other teams.

Cliff Russell, Scott Cloman and Gari Scott are among those wide receivers competing for roster spots.

Russell, drafted by the Redskins in the third round two years ago, has struggled to stay on the field. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in his rookie year and has missed time this training camp with a pulled hamstring.

Gibbs said it was important for players like Betts and Russell to put their injuries behind them and make an impression on the field.

"Sometimes you can't avoid injuries," Gibbs said. "But practice time is a premium and it's hard when they're not out there. Then other players look good, they step up and make a statement. Then you start looking at them and figure out how they fit on the team. If a guy is missing out on that, it puts him in a bad position."

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