- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

Spending the summer covering Washington Redskins receiver Rod Gardner during practices taught cornerback Fred Smoot not to underestimate the first-rounder. The two rookies quickly became best friends, but even the candid Smoot knows better than to tease Gardner.
"I see people take his speed for granted because he's 220 pounds," said Smoot, a second-round pick. "He's going to burn them deep. Once he gets on top of you he's not going to let you back on top of him."
Gardner will start in tomorrow's regular-season opener at the San Diego Chargers, and even he admits he's a little surprised to be chosen over veteran Kevin Lockett.
"Being a starter and a rookie don't [always] go together," Gardner said. "I didn't even think about getting the starting job. I just wanted to learn as much as possible. But once I had the chance to prove myself I knew I would be able to do that."
That Gardner was quick to learn the offense helped offset a short training camp holdout. His first practice began with a crisp crossing route. By the final preseason game, Gardner was starting.
"It's not often you get a young guy that picks up the offense as quick as he does," quarterback Jeff George said. "He understood it early in minicamp."
That Gardner is the second option to veteran receiver Michael Westbrook requires the rookie to adjust from being the prime target at Clemson. Gardner caught 80 passes in 1999 and 58 in 2000.
"In college, I knew they would throw it to me half the time," he said. "Now you have to run your route. You have to be ready."

Mitchell emerges
Kevin Mitchell outlasted Robert Jones for the starting job at middle linebacker, a race coach Marty Schottenheimer conceded he didn't know who would win until the end of preseason. However, it became an easy decision when Jones sprained his knee against New England on Aug. 30. Jones won't play against San Diego.
Mitchell won't let down after opening as a starter for the first time in his eight-year career. He only started 12 of 99 career games at San Francisco (1994-97), New Orleans (1998-99) and Washington, including eight in 1998 as a midseason replacement. Special teams play kept Mitchell in the league.
"I'm not going to savor it until the bye week [Nov. 11]," he said. "I'm going to continue assuming I'm fighting Robert for it."

Milstein loses again
Howard Milstein, the New York real estate scion who unsuccessfully sought to buy the Redskins in 1999, lost again in his legal battle to gain an estimated $400 million in damages from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond yesterday upheld a Virginia district court ruling from last year that Milstein failed to prove the Cooke estate wrongly conspired to derail his bid for the team.
Milstein withdrew his $800 million bid for the Redskins in April 1999 in the face of certain rejection from NFL owners. The team, of course, later went to Dan Snyder for the the same amount. Snyder is not a party in the lawsuit.
Appeals Court Justice Irene M. Keeley, in writing the court's decision, said Milstein's voluntary withdrawal constituted a breach of contract. Also, many deposed NFL owners confirmed the group had grave concerns over Milstein's illiquid assets and spotty history in professional sports.
"[Milstein] has failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether there was fraud," Keeley wrote.
The ruling also reaffirms the estate will be able to keep Milstein's $30 million deposit on the team. The money will go to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a charitable organization established in the Cooke's will.

Extra points
The team captains are returner Michael Bates, defensive end Marco Coleman and offensive tackle Jon Jansen. The trio will decide the coin toss rather than coach Marty Schottenheimer… .
The entire 53-man roster will travel, but seven players will be declared inactive tomorrow. The NFL changed this season from four inactives on Friday and three inactives on game days to the entire seven declared 90 minutes before kickoff.

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