- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

Washington Redskins receiver Irving Fryar is too busy to retire. Just 13 months after returning from a brief layoff, Fryar will start against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

Two weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Fryar has found a late surprise in a 17-year career nearly derailed by drug and legal problems before a religious conversion made Fryar a locker-room leader and team elder.

Now Fryar is being asked to lead on the field as well. After receiver Michael Westbrook's season-ending knee injury Sunday against Detroit, Fryar has been promoted from third-down option to starter opposite Albert Connell. James Thrash also will see more time. Plus, newly signed Andre Reed will play in some sets and cornerback Champ Bailey may be used, but it largely falls upon Fryar to bolster an offense already sputtering in a 1-1 start.

Fryar admits being a starter requires a mindset change. He was ready to contribute before, but shouldering the burden takes some self-motivation.

"I have to adjust again," Fryar said. "I've always prepared myself if something happened, though not of this magnitude, so I would be ready to go in and help. I didn't think [starting] would happen again. I have to take advantage of this with everything I have.

"Regardless of whether it's starting or playing a third-down role, this is all [extra] for me. I was retired and had no intentions of playing again. Now I'm back and starting."

The No. 1 pick in 1984 by New England, Fryar was a regular by his second season. He started 200 of 225 games with the Patriots (1984-92), Miami (1993-95) and Philadelphia (1996-98) before retiring after the Eagles said he wouldn't be retained in 1999. Fryar didn't want to move his family again they still live outside Philadelphia, where Fryar returns home on Tuesdays during the season and opted for a retirement party complete with a motorcycle driven around Veterans Stadium.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder lured Fryar from his brief retirement as a television reporter just three weeks before last season started. He was largely used in three-receiver sets but finished well in the season's second half to total 26 catches and two touchdowns and earn an invitation to return.

"I had shut it down physically and shut it off mentally. I had to turn them both back on," Fryar said about his slow start in 1999. "It doesn't take long to go from the top to bottom physically when you're my age if you don't continue to work out, and I had done nothing physically."

Fryar still can run the deep option, but the aging legs that have gained 12,294 yards are best used in medium-range routes, especially on third downs.

"I'll do what I'm asked whether it's run a route or block," he said. "I'll be precise about it and do it to the best of my ability."

But the Redskins, worried about overtaxing Fryar, will use Thrash, too. It wouldn't be surprising to see three- and four-receiver sets regularly against the Cowboys, and Fryar probably will play only about three-fourths of the snaps.

"Irv goes from No. 3 to 2," passing coordinator Terry Robiskie said. "That's a big jump. As opposed to 20-30 plays, now he has to play 50 plays."

Fryar needs only one reception to pass former Redskins receiver Henry Ellard's 814 for sixth place in NFL career receptions and six to surpass Steve Largent. However, there's little joy in Fryar's eyes this week. The loss to the Lions tempers the joy of returning as a starter for perhaps the final time in a possible Hall of Fame career.

"I still haven't gotten Detroit out of my system yet, so there's no spring in my step," Fryar said.

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