- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

One of the best things about the Redskins' final roster is that Zeron Flemister and Josh Symonette are on it. It's comforting to know the team hasn't gone totally star-crazy, despite the recent hirings of Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George et al. Flemister, a tight end from Iowa, and Symonette, a strong safety from Tennessee Tech, didn't even get drafted last spring, but they impressed enough people in training camp to make the club. Is this a great country or what?
"I didn't really put it in perspective until I saw [the Redskins] had cut two draft picks, maybe three, and I was still here." Flemister said yesterday. "It made me realize I had accomplished something great."
Well, maybe not great, but certainly unlikely. What were the chances an undrafted tight end was going to stick with a Super Bowl contender? The Redskins were already well-stocked at the position with veterans Stephen Alexander, James Jenkins and part-timer Mike Sellers, not to mention free agent Irv Smith. It didn't seem like they needed anybody else.
But Flemister, a 6-foot-4, 249-pound bruiser, came to Washington anyway. He and agent Jack Bechta sat down and weighed his options and decided that "because of the offense, this was probably the best place for me," he said. "It fit the way I play perfectly… . You look at Alexander. He has blocking responsibilities, too, of course, but the main thing is he has great speed and he can get downfield and the offense takes advantage of that."
The Redskins' Super Bowl teams in the '80s and early '90s were filled with players who would have been undrafted free agents today (the draft now being seven rounds instead of 12). I'm talking about guys like Monte Coleman, Charlie Brown, Darryl Grant, Clint Didier, Barry Wilburn, Raleigh McKenzie, Kurt Gouveia and Mark Schlereth. In recent seasons, though, the club hasn't found many undrafted gems which is odd, since the pool of undrafted players is so much deeper than it used to be.
It would be nice if personnel chief Vinny Cerrato started coming up the occasional steal again. Undrafted free agents are, after all, a real bargain in these cap-conscious days. Beyond that, though, it's important as an organization to show you're willing to give everybody even long shots like Flemister and Symonette a fair shot. It makes it easier to sign undrafted free agents in the future.
"I think it is good [to have a couple of undrafted free agents make the roster]," Norv Turner said. "And I think it's good because they're very good players. They showed in the preseason they belong here and that they can improve a great deal."
It's amazing a player with Flemister's gifts good size, an ability to run, decent hands could fall through the cracks. But he didn't have a particularly spectacular college career (just 17 catches his last two years) and missed four games with a pinched nerve as a senior.
"When I was at Iowa, we didn't have a good offensive line," he said, "and our quarterbacks were young. The combination of the two limited my catches. So on draft day I knew I was on the bubble. It just depended on how things went. Some teams had me as the third tight end in the draft, some had me as the 10th, 11th or 12th."
Symonette fell victim to Small School Syndrome. Let's face it, Tennessee Tech ain't exactly a football factory. Also, teams don't usually make the safety position or tight end, for that matter a high priority in the draft. They're looking for cornerbacks and wide receivers.
"I might not even be here if it weren't for Corey Chamblin [another Tennessee Tech product], who made it with the Jaguars last year," Symonette said. "That kind of opened a few doors. We don't have many scouts come through [Tennessee Tech.]
Symonette got a break just before camp when Curtis Buckley suffered a season-ending injury. Flemister, meanwhile, saw the door open a crack when Irv Smith retired. It also didn't hurt that both had special teams capabilities. The Redskins needed major help in that area.
Still, Flemister said, "I don't know if I ever felt like I was going to make the team until I made it. I wouldn't let myself; I might have let up. I treated every day like it was the last day."
By treating every day like it was the last day, he made it to Opening Day. And now his mind is on covering kicks Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and keeping Pro Bowl returner Michael Bates under control. His goals for his first game tell you a lot about the mindset of an undrafted free agent.
"I just want to go out there and feel like I belong on the team," he said. "Yeah, I made the team, but preseason is a lot different from regular season. I just want to make sure I do something to help this team make the Super Bowl."
He and Symonette are in the NFL, improbably enough. Now they have to figure out a way to stay there.

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