Opening Day in NFL is what it’s all about

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On Sunday night, the Washington Redskins will face the Carolina Panthers on national television in their 1997 NFL season opener. As we prepare for this game on the road, I can’t help but think back to the final game played at RFK Stadium when we beat the Dallas Cowboys 37-10 last December. A lot has happened since then.

In the new era of the NFL, it is incredible how much takes place from the end of the season to the beginning of the next season. Each team in the NFL goes through the same process.

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We re-signed Gus Frerotte, Terry Allen and Darrell Green to long-term contracts. Our organization made a great commitment to keep the key players on this team together. We went out and got players who added great experience to our team.

I know I am filled with excitement and even apprehension as we finish our week of preparation for the Panthers. We are going to face a team that went 9-0 at home last season and reached the NFC championship game. They are a very good football team.

We have also faced some adversity throughout training camp, preparing for the season opener without five or six starters. We have practiced without, and played preseason games, without guards Tre Johnson and Bob Dahl on the offensive line. We missed tight end Jamie Asher and defensive end Rich Owens for most of the preseason. Terry Allen had limited work because of a sore shoulder.

We have had a good week of practice getting ready for Carolina. Jamie, Rich and Terry are getting back to full strength. It was very encouraging to see Bob taking snaps with the second group Wednesday and Thursday. He is getting closer and closer to being ready.

That’s the kind of adversity that a team must learn to overcome. I feel confident that this team has enough maturity thanks to veterans like Darrell Green, Ken Harvey, Marvcus Patton, Cris Dishman, Brian Mitchell, Jeff Uhlenhake, Henry Ellard and Terry Allen.

The new additions made to this team in the offseason in free agency and through the draft will play important roles this season. Adding veterans like Cris, Alvin Harper, Jesse Campbell, Jeff Hostetler and Chris Mims will make us a better football team because of their understanding of what it takes to play in this league.

We will start three rookies – Derek Smith at linebacker, Kenard Lang at defensive tackle and Brad Badger at guard – against Carolina on Sunday. Rookie safety Jamel Williams will be in our nickel package, while rookie linebacker Greg Jones will see playing time.

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I like what this team has accomplished so far from the end of last season, through training camp and through four preseason games. Obviously, we are just beginning the part that counts with a very difficult game at Carolina.

As I told the team in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins game, this is what it’s all about. Get ready – the preseason is over. Everything speeds up. The veterans understand, the rookies will find out.

There is nothing like getting ready to play a football game in the National Football League. I know every one of our guys has been waiting for this Sunday since that last game of last season.

* Redskins coach Norv Turner’s column appears every Tuesday and Friday during the NFL season – only in The Washington Times.

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