- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

The Washington Redskins' tight salary cap situation last offseason ensured that Marty Schottenheimer, the first-year coach and director of football operations, would have to make some gambles.
On defense alone, he made four. Each paid off, and now there is a reason for optimism as the club deals with the disappointment of a season without a playoff appearance.
Schottenheimer's chips were placed on defensive tackle Kenard Lang, free safety David Terrell, rookie cornerback Fred Smoot and, to a certain extent, middle linebacker Kevin Mitchell.
At each position, another personnel chief might have pursued a more expensive free agent. Schottenheimer didn't, and the club learned that each player was ready to become a capable NFL starter.
"It's always fun to watch your players develop," Schottenheimer said yesterday. "That's why we coach. That's why, when somebody asked me have I enjoyed the year, [I said] I really have. It's been fun to see the development of our football team."
Mitchell, who this week was placed on injured reserve with a sprained ankle, was the lowest risk. A starter as recently as 1998 with New Orleans, Mitchell re-signed with the Redskins after backing up Derek Smith in 2000. Schottenheimer hedged his bet by signing veteran Robert Jones. Mitchell, an eighth-year player, won the job and recorded a team-high 116 tackles before being injured.
A greater risk in the eyes of everyone except perhaps Schottenheimer was Lang, a natural end who saw some action as a third-down tackle in 2000. Schottenheimer unlike most, even Lang himself firmly believed the 1997 first-round pick could stand out as a starting tackle.
"I didn't have any questions about Kenard's ability to go inside," Schottenheimer said. "I know he had some reservations, but I didn't because we had Dan Williams at Kansas City with a very similar body type. Dan did a great job using quickness, and that's what we've gotten from Kenard."
Teammates recall Lang grumbling a bit last season when asked to play tackle. But this year Lang was playing out his rookie contract, and he figured getting on the field at tackle was far better than not getting on the field at all.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Lang said. "This is what I had to work with, so I tried to take it by the horns and go with it."
Schottenheimer was less certain about the gamble with Terrell, a reserve defensive back and special teams standout in 2000. Terrell inherited the starting role when Mark Carrier was cut. Schottenheimer later signed veteran Keith Lyle during training camp, but Terrell kept working and retained the job.
Motivating Terrell, 26, was the desire to prove himself, as well as the recognition that his first chance to start might be his best or his last.
"It's hard to start in this league," Terrell said. "Especially if a guy gets settled into a spot, it's hard to knock him out unless he just really performs bad."
Terrell believed in himself but was unsure just how good he could be. Far more confident was Smoot, the second-round pick with a master's degree in trash talk.
"I knew I was ready from training camp," Smoot said. "I knew I was ready to play last year. I should have left college early."
Smoot won the starting job over Darrell Green, a 19-year veteran and future Hall of Famer. Schottenheimer's gamble clearly worked, and it appears to have set the Redskins up with one of the league's youngest, most talented tandems: Smoot and Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey.
In that case and the other three, the club's future is what really has benefited from Schottenheimer's gambles. Mitchell has another low-cost year left on his contract. So does Terrell, though Washington might try to lock him up long term. And Lang has reiterated many times that he wants to play out his career in Washington; the club, too, clearly has made re-signing him a priority.
"If we can [take] anything good from the season, we had a lot of new players come up and play ball and become a part of this team," Smoot said. "Now we're a couple of pieces from being one of those teams and taking it the long haul."

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