- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

Washington Redskins guard Wilbert Brown emerged from anonymity last weekend, making his name as a young player who ticked off Michael Strahan.

Not that Strahan learned Brown's name. The star defensive end, angered by what he considered two cheap shots, claimed he knew only Brown's uniform number as he branded him an "idiot" after the New York Giants' victory.

"If you want to be an idiot like that, then be treated like one," Strahan said. "He ain't good enough to be in the league long enough anyways."

No one mistakes Brown for a Pro Bowl talent like Strahan, but the Redskins are glad they picked up the 25-year-old former undrafted rookie out of Houston. Brown now has nine starts at guard after making the active roster as a backup center, and his work ethic and toughness are setting him up for a legitimate NFL career.

"I don't think there's any question," line coach Kim Helton said. "I think there's a bunch of Wilbert Browns in this league good, solid, blue-collar guys who play a support role. With free agency, you just can't afford to have 10 number one draft picks. I think Wilbert's a tough guy, a smart guy, and there's no question there's a place for people like him in the NFL."

Helton still was deciding yesterday whether Brown would make another start on the right side in place of injured Brenden Stai. The coach said Tre Johnson, who has been worked in slowly since he was signed at midseason, finally is being considered for a start. But the split of playing time between Brown and Johnson should remain pretty much the same, Helton said.

Looking ahead, Brown is among a group of "exclusive rights" players the Redskins almost certainly will bring back in 2003 at little cost. Others include starting safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, starting fullback Bryan Johnson, defensive tackle Del Cowsette, tight end Leonard Stephens and tackle Alex Sulfsted.

These players, with two or fewer credited seasons of experience, fill out the roster between big-money guys like Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, Bruce Smith and Jeremiah Trotter (who, by the way, is Brown's best friend from tiny Hooks, Texas).

Exclusive rights players get little if any attention, unless they tick off a star like Strahan and even then, as Strahan's comments indicate, respect is hard to come by. Not that Brown is looking for Strahan's respect.

"I don't care if he doesn't know my name," Brown said. "[Center] Larry [Moore] knows my name. Jon knows my name. Coach [Steve] Spurrier, Coach Helton know my name. That's all I'm concerned with. Nobody else in the league needs to know my name."

The flap with Strahan began when Brown went upfield on a catch by tight end Walter Rasby and hit safety Shaun Williams before Williams could hit Rasby. Strahan believed there was helmet-to-helmet contact, and Williams was left with an apparent burner or mild concussion.

Brown disagreed, saying, "There wasn't head-to-head contact, nothing like that. It was all legal."

The second hit came on Strahan himself, when Brown shoved him in the back near the end of the first half. Strahan's retaliation drew a penalty that stopped the clock for Washington just as time was expiring and set up a Redskins field goal to make it 17-3 at halftime.

"If I had opportunities, I was going to get a shot on him," Brown said. "One time what happened was, just as I was about to take the shot on him, he turned his back. I kind of got him in the back. That's what it was."

Were Brown's hits cheap? It's hard to imagine him as a dirty player given his quiet demeanor and goofy grin. In any case, Helton thinks there was another reason Strahan was so angry.

"It's probably because Wilbert knocked him on his butt about three times," Helton said.

Brown surely had no idea he'd be in a high-profile tiff when he signed with the Redskins on July16 following a solid spring in NFL Europe. After being allocated to the developmental league by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, Brown was protected by the Frankfurt Galaxy for 2002 and benefited from his club's success.

Playing in Europe, however, has decided drawbacks. The players aren't in the offseason conditioning programs of NFL teams, so they don't have the opportunity to build strength and endurance for the season.

"When you're coming from over there, you come right to camp," Brown said. "Your body's still sore. You haven't really had an offseason. And when you're in a situation like I am, playing a lot, it's even tougher."

Indeed, those who play NFL Europe in the spring and then make NFL squads in the summer rarely play much that year. But Brown has done just that. Next year he expects to improve by going through an offseason workout program, making him more prepared for Strahan or whoever else might want to get into a scrape.

"It happens all the time," Brown said, wearing his goofy grin. "You experience things. I have an experience with Strahan now. That's all."

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