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Gardner gets 1st test vs. 'Skins

August 13, 2005|By JENNA FRYER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Rod Gardner holds no ill will toward the Washington Redskins, the team he spent four seasons with as a starting receiver. But he wouldn't mind getting his season off to a good start when he meets up with his former team tonight in a preseason game.

Gardner asked for a trade and was sent to Carolina in July for a sixth-round draft pick.

"They took care of me while I was there. I have no complaints," he said, "When I asked for a trade, I was blessed to get down here to Carolina.

"This gives me a chance to exhale and go out there and compete and start over fresh."

Gardner was a first-round pick in 2001, but was inconsistent in Washington. His best season was 2002, when he caught 71 passes for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns.

He had 51 catches for 650 yards and five touchdowns last year, and the drop-off may have been his own fault. He had memorable dropped passes and noticed his role in the offense always changed.

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"There were points in the season where I felt it came down to they needed a player and would count on me, then the next week it was like they forgot about me," Gardner said. "Show me what my worth is and let me understand. I felt like I didn't know what they wanted from me. So I just felt it was time for leave and see whether I could go and start over fresh."

His former teammates don't blame him for trying to move on.

"Rod probably had a legitimate argument, only having 30 or 40 balls or whatever," said Washington running back Clinton Portis.

Gardner should get a decent amount of playing time tonight with the status of starter Keary Colbert uncertain because of a strained hamstring. Colbert's week on the sidelines gave Gardner extended time with the first team and Carolina's coaching staff realized they may end up with a battle for the starting position.

Colbert, entering his second season, inherited the job when Muhsin Muhammad signed with the Chicago Bears. Muhammad is Carolina's all-time leading receiver and led the league last season with 1,405 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns.

Gardner took over Muhammad's No. 87, and the Panthers would be thrilled if he can match Muhammad in production, as well.

The game will be the first chance for the Redskins to see if coach Joe Gibbs fixed his shaky offense with some offseason tinkering. Early indications haven't been promising, with the team sputtering in a scrimmage against Baltimore while quarterback Patrick Ramsey was sacked four times.

Ramsey said this exhibition against the Panthers and their vaunted front four of Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins will be a decent test for him.

"I'm taking it pretty seriously. We've got a good defense to go against," said Ramsey, who added the Redskins' goals are to "score and move the ball efficiently. As long as we're able to do that, we'll be successful."

Even if that success isn't apparent in this game, the Panthers believe Gibbs will eventually turn around the Redskins.

"Whatever their record was last year, without Joe it could have been worse," said Carolina offensive coordinator Dan Henning. "In my experience - which goes back 37 years - when it comes to competition, he's as good as there is. He's in it to win. There is nothing else on his mind."

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