If injured Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams feels up to playing against the New York Giants Sunday afternoon, he will play, Coach Joe Gibbs said Friday.
But if Williams tells Gibbs he can't play, Jay Schroeder, who was benched nearly two weeks ago but, according to his coaches, has practiced "very well," will start.
For the second day in a row, Williams missed practice with a sprained ligament in his lower back. As his teammates worked out between puddles at Redskin Park, he held a news conference and received treatment while waiting for the next team meeting and film session.
But missing two of the team's three full practices of the week does not preclude Williams from facing the Giants at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium, Gibbs said, especially if his physical condition continues to improve.
Head trainer Bubba Tyer said Williams' back was "much better," and Williams said he is hoping to take some snaps today in the team's short pregame walk-through.
"Ultimately, if Doug tells me, 'I can go, I can play,' he'll play," Gibbs said. "We'll make the decision based on how he feels."
Williams said he wants to have a decision made by tonight's quarterbacks meeting. He does not want to wait until game-time to make up his mind.
"I'm hoping that things get better by (Saturday) and I can take some snaps and determine at that point whether or not I'll be able to play . . . Considering how I felt Friday and how I feel now, (if he keeps improving at the same rate), I think I'll be able to play. It got a lot better since Friday. I woke up this morning and could tie my shoes. . . . That's why I believe it's going to be a lot better come Sunday."
Said Tyer: "If he improves again as much he has in the last 24 hours, he's got a real good chance of playing. I think the odds are in his favor that he will be able to play."
Williams said the decision was Gibbs' to make, and Gibbs said it was Williams'. And if it had to be made Friday, it would have been simple: Schroeder would have received the starting assignment.
"If I feel this way on Sunday, I couldn't play and I wouldn't want to play," Williams said Friday. "I think I'd do more to hurt the team than I would help it if I was to play in this condition."
Meanwhile, Schroeder said he had "no idea" about his status.
"I just have to wait my chance," he said Friday at Redskin Park. "It's just like every week, I'm getting myself prepared as if I was going to play. Whether I play or not, that's going to be up to how well Doug feels and what the coaches' decision is."
Ever since Gibbs benched Schroeder, the coach has closed his practices to the media, making it impossible for outside observers to check Schroeder's progress. Word from inside the gates is that Schroeder has looked "good" and "sharp," and he says he feels "ready to play."
"I've felt I was ready to play all along," Schroeder said. "It's just a matter of making the plays . . . I'm just waiting around. If they give me the go-ahead to play, I'm going to be ready to play."
Quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome said if Schroeder plays, "I think you'll see him play well. He just needs to get in the groove again."
Schroeder isn't lobbying for the starting job, but he certainly wouldn't mind getting another shot at the Giants, who beat the Redskins three times last season on their way to a Super Bowl victory. In his book, linebacker Lawrence Taylor said Schroeder was "shell-shocked" in the NFC championship game. Schroeder said that's not true.
"Anytime they write stuff about you and they talk about you, you want to get back in and get a shot," Schroeder said. "We'll have to wait and see on Sunday. If they can do it again, more power to them."
Of course, no one yet knows if Schroeder will get the opportunity to face the Giants (or even if Taylor, with an injured hamstring, will be playing.
There have been times when Gibbs has stressed the importance of a Friday practice if a player was to be available for a game that Sunday. Other times, players like center Russ Grimm and wide receiver Gary Clark have missed the entire week of practice, only to start as usual.
"It's not ideal, obviously, but sometimes you make do," Gibbs said.
Rhome said Williams' lack of practice time won't be much of a factor in the decision.
"We've had guys come off the bench and play with no practice the whole week," Rhome said. "If a guy's ready to play, he should play."
However, the nature of Williams' injury--a sprained ligament supporting the vertebrae between L3 and L4 in the lower spine--adds intrigue to this latest quarterback quandary.
"With a quarterback, a back is really tricky," Rhome said. "You could feel pretty good and all of a sudden, the first play . . . You might want to go with Jay even though Doug thinks he may be able to play. You want to be 100% healthy and ready to go."
Williams, who said his back was stiff during the Redskins' 30-26 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Monday night, developed muscle spasms Thursday after taking a snap from center and twisting around on the first play of practice. He said it's the first time he has ever had a back problem.
"It's very sad as far as getting an opportunity to play," the 32-year-old veteran said. "I was just really getting into the flow of it, the feel of the game and being in control. I was not playing because Jay was hurt but I was playing because the coaches felt like it was best for me to play. Quite naturally, it's a downer, but let's see what happens."