- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Michael Westbrook's promising career took another step toward star-crossed yesterday. An MRI revealed a torn ligament and cartilage in the left knee of the Washington Redskins' top wide receiver that will cause him to miss the rest of the season.

The Redskins moved immediately to fill the void, agreeing to a one-year, $500,000 deal with seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Reed, according to team and league sources. Reed, 36, amassed 941 catches (the NFL's second-best career total) and 13,095 yards in 15 seasons with Buffalo before being released this offseason.

Nonetheless, Westbrook's injury, suffered in the third quarter of Sunday's 15-10 loss at Detroit, creates more problems for the Redskins' sputtering offense. Washington's top three receivers now are Albert Connell, an erratic fourth-year player, and aging stars Reed and Irving Fryar, who turns 38 on Sept. 28.

The Redskins already had the league's oldest roster, according to a study released last week by the NFL. Now, heading into Monday night's game against Dallas, Washington (1-1) will miss the tall, strong, athletic 28-year-old who was overcoming his dubious past and becoming one of the league's top targets.

"[Westbrook] was headed to a heck of a big year," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "It's unfortunate because I think he is one of the better receivers in this league."

Westbrook tore his ACL and medial meniscus. Detroit strong safety Ron Rice made the hit nine minutes into the second half after Westbrook caught a 16-yard pass. Westbrook returned for one play but left after feeling looseness in his knee.

The looseness is attributed to past injuries. Westbrook's left knee endured a sprained MCL, a cartilage injury and a PCL tear in his first four seasons (1995-98).

"The laxity in his knee is too great," Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer said. "If there's enough laxity, the knee shifts… . It has to be repaired to tighten up the knee."

Westbrook, who could not be reached for comment, will undergo surgery in several weeks after the swelling subsides. He is expected to return to full strength, probably for the start of training camp next spring, when he will begin preparing for the final year of the contract he signed as the Redskins' first-round pick (fourth overall) in 1995.

Westbrook's recent injuries have included a herniated disc in 1998, which threatened his career, and a broken wrist last season, which hampered him but did not keep him from playing.

"Mike's a good, hard worker," Tyer said. "He's had some significant injuries."

Westbrook (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) finished his abbreviated 2000 season with nine catches for 103 yards. In 1999 he had 65 catches for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns. But before that he struggled to reach his potential, gaining notoriety for holding out, getting injured, punching teammate Stephen Davis, drawing a penalty for taking off his helmet and not speaking to the media for nearly two years.

"He's grown each year," Turner said. "He had his best year last year. He had a great training camp. He was off to a good start… . He's obviously very, very disappointed."

Reed comes to the Redskins after participating in Denver's training camp. Reed, who signed a $600,000 deal with the Broncos that included a $160,000 signing bonus, left when he was told he would be retained only as a reserve. His agreement with the Redskins does not include a bonus.

Westbrook's injury also puts pressure on Connell, Fryar and fourth-year receiver/kick returner James Thrash. In addition, the Redskins are expecting production from first-year player Derrius Thompson, who remained on the active roster yesterday when rookie strong safety Josh Symonette was waived.

"You need every player you have to go play a 16-game season," Turner said. "Certainly, the better team you are, the more players you have, the better chance you have of overcoming the loss of one of your key players. Certainly we need guys to step up and fill Mike's shoes."

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