- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

A clear message came from the Washington Redskins one day after future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders decided to retire: He was great, but we'll be OK.

"It's a loss for us," linebacker Shawn Barber said yesterday, noting the talent and lighthearted air Sanders brought during his one season as a Redskin. "But as far as hurting us in preparing for the season, we were preparing like he wasn't here, because he wasn't. So it's not going to affect us preparation-wise at all."

Teammates at Redskin Park agreed, saying that Washington's cornerback cast including Champ Bailey, a 23-year-old Pro Bowl pick, and Darrell Green, himself en route to the Hall of Fame is ready to handle the loss, especially since Sanders no longer could dominate opponents into ignoring his side of the field.

"My first year, when we were in San Fran, that was the defense we played," linebacker Kevin Mitchell recalled of the 49ers' championship run in 1994. "He just had that whole side, and we zoned off the other side. He's that type of player. And he did a great job that year he was [NFL] Defensive Player of the Year.

"[Last season] I think it was just a little different scheme [the Redskins] were trying to run and he's a little bit older. And he had his back problem that was hindering his movement. He was still moving, but not like the old Deion. I don't think we could have put him on the island. That wouldn't be fair to him."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer was emphatic in saying the Redskins would change nothing in the wake of Sanders' retirement. The coach pointed to second-round draft pick Fred Smoot and free agent Donovan Greer as possible competitors for the starting spot and spoke highly of several other young corners who might earn playing time.

"We don't have a thing to change," Schottenheimer said. "We move into this season with what we're doing and the way we're doing it. It's not changing in any regard."

His sentiments made sense, considering that the team made the internal decision in mid-May to let Sanders go. Sanders struggled in major league baseball, causing the Redskins to hold off on an inevitable parting. The team hoped Sanders would return part of his $8 million signing bonus to be released or simply skip training camp starting today in Carlisle, Pa., which would have allowed the Redskins to file a grievance on the prorated portion of the bonus.

Sanders, who turns 34 on Aug. 9, ended up surrendering about $400,000 in exchange for permission to retire. If he had not gotten the Redskins' permission, the club could have filed the grievance and likely received the entire prorated bonus, or $6.857 million.

Schottenheimer, speaking after the Redskins' final practice in a three-day period preceding camp, stressed that NFL players usually lose their mental edge before their physical skills. He dodged the question of whether Sanders had lost a step.

"You know, he's still a good player," Schottenheimer said. "I don't know how you quantify 'lost a step.' But I know this: As difficult as this game is, if you're not 100 percent committed to it, you've got no chance. It's too hard."

Sanders struggled to win over Washington fans last season after signing a seven-year, $56 million contract after five seasons with the archrival Dallas Cowboys. But several Redskins said Sanders was mistakenly characterized as selfish.

"That was a misconception," Mitchell said. "Of course you want your personal accolades, but he wanted the team-oriented goals, too the Super Bowl, playoffs, all that. Every team I played with him on, that's what he wanted."

Asked what Sanders brought to the Redskins' defense last year, Mitchell laughed and replied, "He brought Deion. That's it, his flair. I mean, he's an exciting player. He draws a lot of attention to himself and takes a little bit off everybody else."

Second-year quarterback Todd Husak, who was selected in the sixth round last year but was inactive much of the season, formed an immediate bond with Sanders that he now struggles to explain.

"I remember he came up and started talking to me one time, and I was like, 'Why are you messing with me?' " Husak said. "I think he liked me because I didn't put up with any of his stuff. I talked trash right back to him. I don't know. I think I threw a couple touchdowns on him and started giving him some heat. He took a liking to me after that.

"I'm sad. Any time a great player like that leaves, it's too bad. It's fun watching him play. Whether you like him or you hate him, you've got to admit the guy is fun to watch. So it's sad from that standpoint, but also it's disappointing because it's nice to have him on your team. And also he's a good friend, so it's too bad on a couple levels."

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