- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Something always seems to get between Michael Westbrook and stardom. Sometimes it's injuries, sometimes it's his own shortcomings, sometimes it's just plain bad luck. At a certain point, though, you say to yourself: It's not going to happen for this guy. We're never going to know what kind of player he might have become.
We're about at that point with Westbrook, aren't we? The Redskins found out yesterday that he's horrors! out for the year with a torn knee ligament. Just two weeks into their Super Bowl-or-bust season, they've lost their best receiver. Again.
How many times is it now? Let's count 'em up. He missed five games as a rookie, five more in his second year, another three in his third and another five in his fourth. It wasn't until last year his fifth that he got through a season relatively unscathed. That is, if you consider a broken wrist relatively unscathed.
The Redskins were hoping things had turned around for Westbrook in '99. He posted career highs in catches (65), yards (1,191) and touchdowns (nine), and he didn't punch out any teammates or miss any meetings. He finally seemed to have matured, to have accepted the responsibilities that go with being a No. 1 receiver.
But now he's headed for surgery and the Redskins' Super Bowl dreams may be headed for the morgue. Why? Because they don't have a Jeff George/Darrell Green type at wideout who can fill the void. All they have are Irving Fryar and just-signed Andre Reed, who are a collective 74 years old, plus James Thrash. None of them is nearly the downfield threat Westbrook is.
The new lead receiver, of course, is Albert Connell, and Albert ain't no lead receiver. He's fine as a secondary target (62 catches, 1,132 yards, seven TDs a year ago), but he won't put up nearly the same numbers against the kind of coverage Michael gets. Poor Stephen Davis. He'll have to carry even more of the load now and defenses will be laying for him.
Norv Turner looked like a kid who had had one of his toys taken away as he talked about Westbrook yesterday. He didn't even pretend that Connell and Co. would be able to make up for Michael's absence. "Michael had a great training camp," Norv said, "and I think he was headed for a great year. It's unfortunate because I think he's one of the better receivers in the league."
It's hard not to get That Sinking Feeling about the Redskins. The early returns just aren't good. They struggled against Carolina, got beat by Detroit, Cory Raymer is hurt and now Westbrook is hurt. Oh, yeah, and Deion Sanders says he just played the worst game of his career.
(Just to go off on a tangent for a moment, can you ever remember so many top receivers going down so early in the season? Rob Moore is gone for the year. Joey Galloway is gone for the year. Patrick Jeffers is gone for the year. Westbrook is gone for the year. And Michael Irvin was forced to retire prematurely. If anybody else gets incapacitated, Henry Ellard might have to suit up again.)
What hurts even more is that Westbrook's injury appears to be artificial-turf-related. At least, that's the opinion of trainer Bubba Tyer. Michael's foot got stuck in the Silverdome turf as he was tackled after a 16-yard catch Sunday. Had the game been played on grass who knows? he might have bounced up and run back to the huddle.
The Redskins have been in a situation like this once before, you may recall. In 1984, fresh off two trips to the Super Bowl, they lost their leading receiver, Charlie Brown, for most of the season. Amazingly, the story had a happy ending. Art Monk set an NFL record by catching 106 passes, and the team made the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
Unfortunately for the current Redskins, there's no Art Monk-in-waiting on the roster, no Plan B. There's only Plan P for pray.
Westbrook will be 29 when he rejoins the Redskins next year hardly a young man. He'll also be in the last year of the seven-year contract he signed as a rookie. Talk about bad timing. Tyer is convinced Michael will recover completely because "he's a good, hard worker." But you have to wonder about a knee that has had virtually everything happen to it sprained medial collateral ligament, torn cartilage, torn posterior cruciate ligament and now a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
That knee has been through a lot a whole lot. And now the Westbrook-less Redskins are going to get tested themselves. Given the offense's struggles lately even with Michael well, you finish the sentence.

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