- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

When Rod Gardner caught an 85-yard touchdown pass to tie Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers a key play in the Washington Redskins' 17-14 overtime win the first player to race downfield and jump on Gardner's back in celebration was Michael Westbrook.
That's right, Westbrook the wide receiver who lost his anticipated go-to status to Gardner, who has become a forgotten part of the Redskins' last-ranked offense, whose name has been floated in trade rumors and whose relationship with coach Marty Schottenheimer appears to have grown strained.
Westbrook has had little to celebrate in this, his seventh season, but he is willing to forget his frustrations when the Redskins are successful.
"All I want to do is win. Period," Westbrook said this week. "You don't throw me the ball and we lose, I've got a problem. You don't throw me the ball and we win, I'm happy."
The 4 p.m. trade deadline came and went yesterday with Westbrook still a Redskin. He was a prime candidate to be moved because he is in the last year of his contract, which negates the salary-cap problems that preclude trading someone like defensive end Bruce Smith.
But deadline trades are extremely unusual in the NFL, and in the end it was no surprise that the Redskins stood pat. In fact, it appears the club never entered into any substantive talks. And Westbrook, for his part, never gave serious thought to departing.
"It's not something that really concerns me," Westbrook said. "It does nothing but hurt me and my team, me worrying about things other than winning and getting better."
Now Westbrook is attempting to salvage a solid finish to the disappointing starts by himself (16 catches, 152 yards, one touchdown) and the Redskins (1-5). He's not exactly upbeat, but, as Sunday's celebration shows, he hasn't given up.
"I don't know [how the season will play out]," Westbrook said. "I don't expect anything to change. I'm just going to keep doing my part, keep riding it out."
The Redskins' ball-control system has been a key point of Westbrook's frustration. In the 0-5 start Washington rarely attempted any downfield passes, apparently because the offense struggled on such plays in practice.
Things opened up Sunday, when quarterback Tony Banks completed the 85-yarder and a 47-yard pass to Gardner, as well as several other mid-to-deep strikes. Young fullback Bryan Johnson made a 32-yard catch. Rookie wideout Derrius Thompson got a 19-yarder. And even Westbrook reeled in a 19-yard catch.
That, unfortunately, was Westbrook's only reception. And it was his second straight game with just one catch.
This isn't what Westbrook, 29, envisioned when he accepted a salary cut (from nearly $1.1 million to the minimum $477,000) in the offseason to remain with the team and be its longest-tenured player. But he isn't agonizing over that decision, saying, "The decision I made, good or bad, they're my decisions. I live with them."
There have been several ill-fated and well-documented choices by Westbrook since he was the draft's fourth overall pick in 1995. The same could be said about the Redskins. Now the union, after several fresh starts and a 1999 season of fulfilled potential (65 catches, 1,191 yards and an appearance in the NFC divisional playoffs), is set to end in disappointment.
This year began with the latest influx of hope. Schottenheimer championed Westbrook's ability and effort during the offseason, something he no longer does now. This week the coach sounded ambivalent about Westbrook, saying Westbrook's frustration is no different than any other player's, that the receiver "has done fine" handling himself and that he has fulfilled his role.
"We feel like Michael has been able to contribute in a number of ways, both as a receiver and as a blocker, which is important in our offense," Schottenheimer said.
Where Westbrook goes after this season as a first-time free agent is anybody's guess. The Redskins' interests are uncertain because Schottenheimer might not be running the team anymore, and Westbrook's value in the open market is unclear because of his inconsistent production and injury history.
In the meantime, Westbrook will continue to enjoy whatever success comes his or the team's way.
"Of course I'm not happy," Westbrook said. "We're 1-5. If we're 1-5, I can't be happy. If we were 5-1 I'd be very happy. I'd be part of a winning team, just doing my little part."
Notes The Redskins yesterday worked out two free agent punt returners, Nate Jacquet and Eric Metcalf. Jacquet, 26, was released by the Minnesota Vikings last week, while Metcalf, 33, was a final preseason cut by the Oakland Raiders.
Washington, which has just 19 punt return yards from Kevin Lockett and Michael Bates, also might consider former Kansas City Chief Tamarick Vanover, who already worked out but recently served time in prison. The club made a signing possible by waiving defensive lineman Tyrone Williams.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide