- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer gets his first look at five draftees and 27 rookie free agents today as a three-day minicamp begins at Redskin Park.

Wide receiver Rod Gardner and cornerback Fred Smoot, the Redskins' first- and second-round draft choices last weekend, are among the 81 players expected. Only cornerback Deion Sanders, who is working on a baseball comeback with the Cincinnati Reds' Class AAA affiliate in Louisville, is expected to be absent from the mandatory practices.

This period marks the first and last time rookies can work out with Redskins veterans until training camp begins July 29.

"We want to give them a basic foundation, so that when they come back they'll be familiar with the system and the way we do things," Schottenheimer said this week.

The Redskins' tight salary cap situation leaves several backup jobs and perhaps a few starting roles available to rookies. Four undrafted guards could compete for starting spots in Schottenheimer's West Coast offense, while seven undrafted players could push veteran Kevin Mitchell at middle linebacker.

Schottenheimer said he "absolutely" is eager to take a look at the rookies, adding, "We've done our analysis [of their skills], but until you see them compete, you really don't know that much about them.

"We have a sense some of these young players will do well because they've been well-schooled," Schottenheimer said, singling out University of Pittsburgh wideout Latef Grim as "an accurate route runner" who "may be ahead of some receivers" in minicamp.

In the draft, the Redskins shored up a depleted receiving corps and added depth at quarterback, cornerback and defensive tackle, but the club waited until after the draft to address positions like guard and middle linebacker.

One of the most significant post-draft pickups was Michigan center David Brandt, who could become Cory Raymer's backup. That would allow Mark Fischer, who started in place of the injured Raymer last season, to compete for the starting left guard position.

Gardner is expected to challenge Kevin Lockett, a free-agent pickup, for a receiver job opposite Michael Westbrook, who will miss the practices while rehabilitating his repaired ACL. Smoot could battle Darrell Green for a starting cornerback role across from Champ Bailey, with Sanders expected to play baseball into the regular season.

The Redskins have a major decision to make with Sanders: cut him after June 1 or place him on the Did Not Report list. The former scenario would recoup $3.5 million of cap space but allow the future Hall of Famer to become a free agent; the latter would retain his rights but gain only $205,882 of cap room for each regular-season game he missed.

Sanders' contract allows him to miss minicamps, training camp and even games as long as the absence is baseball-related, league sources said this week. The Reds are expected to purchase Sanders' minor league contract Tuesday and give him a one-year, $1 million deal to return to the majors for the first time since 1997.

Schottenheimer expects to sign several more free agents in the three months between minicamp and training camp. He currently has two roster spots available. However, he does not expect any unsigned veterans to participate this weekend.

Green (calf pull) and receiver Tyrone Goodson (knee) will not participate this weekend.

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