- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

The way Washington Redskins offensive line coach Kim Helton sees it, the question isn't whether the Redskins need to sign a veteran free agent at left guard. It's whether there's one out there better than what they've got.
"We're happy with what we have, but we're looking to upgrade also," Helton said this week. "But not just swap spit."
In other words, "If there's not someone out there who we think definitely upgrades [the club], I can't justify recommending that we extend money to bring in a new guy just because he's got a different name."
The name of the current left guard is David Loverne, a former third-round draft pick by the New York Jets who never lived up to the organization's hopes. He was traded to Washington this spring for the cheapest of prices to move up just a few spaces in the fifth round of last month's draft.
Whether Loverne, who turns 26 next week, can become a first-time starter in Washington is a key question for the Redskins, who have several needs they would like to address and little salary cap space to do it. The club is eyeing defensive linemen, particularly high-priced tackle Sam Adams, and safeties and must think about extending tackle Jon Jansen's contract.
If Loverne stands out in the current offseason practices and as training camp approaches, that's one less starter Washington must acquire. If not, it's crucial that the club find a capable interior blocker for Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis. Helton likes several of Loverne's qualities but won't offer false praise.
"I don't know that I can get too carried away with what gives him a chance, what doesn't give him a chance," Helton said. "He has some experience as a backup player in the league. He certainly has got a lot of want-to. He's a smart guy, a tough guy. You've just got to wait and see until he puts the gear on. Until you've got a history, it's tough to start talking about how good somebody is."
Two players who have such a history are center Larry Moore and right guard Rod Jones, whom the Redskins picked up in free agency. Each offered what Helton called "a clear-cut difference" compared to the young prospect Washington had at that position.
When the offseason began, the Redskins' interior line consisted of David Brandt, Ross Tucker and Alex Sulfsted. All three were rookies in 2001. Only Sulfsted was drafted (in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs), while only Brandt started a game.
"If there's a clear-cut difference, like there was in Larry Moore, [well sign the free agent]," Helton said. "If there's a clear-cut difference, like there was in Rod Jones Rod Jones started in the Super Bowl [for the St. Louis Rams]. You've got a guy who's out there playing against first-string players in a championship game.
"Ross Tucker has no experience but is still a tough guy. How tough will he play out there? I can't say that yet. I've got to coach him first."
Loverne appears to have the right blend of size (6-foot-3, 299 pounds) and agility for the left guard position, which calls for a bit more pulling than the power-oriented right side. He isn't terribly effusive about his chance; he simply knows he wants a starting job after three years of sitting and special teams work for the Jets.
"Nobody wants to ride pine all their lives," Loverne said. "Nobody runs the race to be second."
Sulfsted, 24, is getting the second-string snaps at left guard, but his task is a bit more difficult because coaches want him to learn left tackle, too. Helton figures Sulfsted has a better chance of making the team if he can show some versatility. Sulfsted, for his part, doesn't mind the burden.
"This is the time of year to really learn it," he said with a shrug. "It's no more difficult than being a rookie, I guess. It's better to learn it now than wait until training camp."
By camp, things should be clearer. The Redskins are looking to sign someone cheaply, and available players are waiting until after June 1, when more teams will have cap room and the bidding should be more intense. Washington might end up with one of the two free agents with whom it has spoken, Heath Irwin or Rich Tylski, or take a shot at one of the probable post-June 1 cuts, the San Francisco 49ers' Ray Brown or the New York Giants' Glenn Parker.
But only as long as Helton decides it ain't swapping spit.
"You're always happy with what you've got," Helton said. "You're always wishing to get a guy who's an older player who's had some starting experience. But you just can't get everything every year."
Note Undrafted Virginia Tech wide receiver Emmett Johnson was the only rookie to practice, though most rookies became eligible to return to workouts yesterday. By next week more are expected. Only a few, like UCLA long snapper Jeff Grau and Utah wide receiver Cliff Russell, have extremely late graduations that could affect their participation in next month's minicamp.


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