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In Strahan, Heyer Faces Giant Matchup

Stephon Heyer watched Michael Strahan on TV for years, wondering what it would be like to compete against the best.

Heyer no longer has to wonder.

On Sunday night, Heyer is expected to match up against Strahan, the New York Giants' 6-5, 255-pound defensive end and sack-master.

Heyer took first-team reps at right tackle in Wednesday's practice. He had replaced Todd Wade in the lineup for the Redskins' Dec. 6 game against Chicago.

At first glance, Heyer vs. Strahan would appear to be a mismatch. Heyer is an undrafted rookie out of Maryland making his third NFL start. Strahan has had a Hall of Fame-caliber career with 141.5 sacks to his credit.

It's up to Heyer to prove that it's not a mismatch.

"No, I've never gone up against a defensive end like Michael Strahan," Heyer said. "I've watched him for a very long time even when I wasn't in the NFL. He has always had a knack for getting to the quarterback and putting himself in position to make plays."

Discussing Strahan, Heyer said: "He's fast and strong, and he also has a great knowledge of the game. He studies up on offensive linemen and knows their weaknesses. That's how he attacks them.

"One of the things I need to do is to straighten up and be sound on my technique, and make sure there aren't any [flaws] that he can pick up on."

Said head coach Joe Gibbs: "This would obviously be a huge challenge for anybody in the league. [Heyer] is going up against one of the premiere defensive ends. The guy has played a long time and has been one of the leaders of their team."

Right guard Randy Thomas did not practice on Wednesday and it is uncertain if he'll play on Sunday night. If Thomas is out, then Heyer would line up beside Jason Fabini.

"Jason and I been working closely the past few weeks and I think we're getting better together," Heyer said.

Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders is prepared to give Heyer help against Strahan if needed.

"We'll have a lot of different ways to help him, and part of that is the variety of protections that we use," Saunders said. "There's always keeping an extra offensive player in, whether it's tight end or back, or sliding the protection so that [Heyer] is not out on an edge all the time."

The entire Redskins' pass protection unit faces a challenge against New York's defensive front.

The Giants lead the NFL in sacks with 47. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who matches up with Chris Samuels, leads the NFL with 12 sacks. Third-year defensive end Justin Tuck is having a breakout year with nine sacks.

Said Saunders: "We have a tremendous volume [of pass protections] and hopefully a defense can't key in on a specific protection by the formations or by personnel. So we can change up who's blocking those defensive ends quite a bit."


Displaced starter Todd Wade said he feels healthy enough to play this Sunday, but he is leaving the decision up to the coaching staff.

Wade has had nagging knee and groin injuries this season, and Stephon Heyer replaced him in the starting lineup last week against Chicago.

"Todd is working back closer to being in shape," Gibbs said. "I'm not sure he is 100 percent right now but he is getting back closer. The fact that Stephon played last week and did a real good job--we are going to stay like that right now.

"Todd is a big part of what we do here. Hopefully, if he can get back totally healthy, that will be important depth-wise for us."


The Redskins worked Antwaan Randle El into the mix at quarterback during Wednesday's practice.

Randle El would serve as an emergency quarterback should starter Todd Collins and backup Mark Brunell go down with an injury during a game.

Randle El was a college quarterback under Cam Cameron at the University of Indiana. In the pros, he moved to wide receiver.

The team had its first look at practice squad quarterback Jason Fife on Wednesday. But it appears unlikely that he will be signed to the 53-man roster, barring injury.

"We will probably keep [Randle El] in that role as the emergency guy," Gibbs said.


Wide receiver James Thrash returned to practice on Wednesday and Joe Gibbs said he is on track to play in Sunday's game against the Giants.

Thrash even stayed late after practice to work with Jason Fife.

"James looked good," Gibbs said. "He is amazing. How many vets would have stayed out there and worked with a first-year quarterback? He is a pretty phenomenal guy as far as I'm concerned.

"It will be great to get him back. He is a leader and he means a lot to us."


Reserve cornerback John Eubanks suffered a toe infection during the last week and he missed practice on Wednesday.

If he is unable to play on Sunday, it's possible that the Redskins would have to call up rookie Byron Westbrook from practice squad to serve in dime coverage.

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