- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The Washington Redskins re-signed kicker James Tuthill yesterday, following through with their preseason contingency plan to replace Brett Conway after briefly considering other candidates. Conway was placed on injured reserve, meaning he will not kick for Washington again this year.

The Redskins had planned to keep Tuthill when the season opened if Conway couldn't rehabilitate a hip flexor, but Conway seemed healthy in a workout for club officials on the day of final cuts. Tuthill was released and told to stay ready; his opportunity came right away when Conway tore a quadriceps in Sunday's 31-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

"As an organization, we felt very comfortable with James at the conclusion of the preseason," said Joe Mendes, vice president of football operations. "Nothing has happened between then and now to change our confidence level."

Tuthill, a big (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) and strong-legged 26-year-old, signed a two-year, $512,000 deal and will make his debut in Monday night's big game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Although he immediately faces a high-pressure situation, he thinks he's ready.

"I feel comfortable," Tuthill said. "I really don't feel like there's a lot of pressure. I think you just go out and kick field goals and kickoffs as well as you can. It's the same game whether it's in practice or in preseason."

Meanwhile, running back Stephen Davis was limping less noticeably as he stopped by Redskin Park on an off day for players. He reiterated plans to practice tomorrow, when the team begins its on-field preparation for the Eagles, and to play Monday despite sustaining a painful strained groin in the third quarter against Arizona.

"I'm fine. It's normal soreness," said Davis, who kept playing against the Cardinals after the injury. "I'm just going to rest it the next couple days. I'm a warrior. I've got to be out there."

The Redskins defied NFL convention somewhat by going with the untested Tuthill. Most clubs prefer to pick up a veteran, even if he's on the downside of his career, rather than take a chance on a young kicker.

But a gamble and some patience can pay off. Washington, for example, had David Akers for one game on Sept.20, 1998, after waiving Scott Blanton. Akers, then 23, missed two long field goals and the next day was replaced by Cary Blanchard. Last year Akers made 83.9 percent of his attempts for Philadelphia and went to the Pro Bowl, while the Redskins are on their seventh kicker since him.

"It's extremely difficult to get [teams] to try someone who hasn't been in the system for a long time," said agent Bill Henslee, who represents Tuthill. "It's extremely frustrating when they keep going with the same bunch of guys who have been cut."

Washington eyed a market that included free agents like Tim Seder, Jon Hilbert and Shayne Graham three who, NFL sources said, will be among a group that works out this morning at Redskin Park. The workout will help Washington formulate a backup plan if Tuthill struggles. But for now, the club believes he is the most compelling option.

"There's a long list of people available out there, a lot of wanna-bes and a lot of has-beens," special teams coach Mike Stock said. "But the list is very short of guys who can do it."

Tuthill bounced through San Francisco, Green Bay and Houston before getting waived by the Texans this preseason and being claimed by Washington. After being cut by the Redskins, he had an impressive workout for Minnesota, but the Vikings decided to stay with Doug Brien.

Tuthill's strong leg earned him a number of workouts as a kickoff specialist, so he was particularly excited that Washington signed him to perform all of its place-kicking duties.

"That's my ultimate goal," Tuthill said. "I want to do the most I can for the team scoring points and coming through in clutch situations. As a competitor, if you're just kicking kickoffs, you feel like you're not doing as much as you can for the team."

A minister and the son of a pastor in Upland, Calif., Tuthill has a quiet, pious manner. Conway believes the product of Cal Poly-Pomona is ready for the pressures of kicking in an NFL game, saying, "Nobody's taken a shot on him. As soon as somebody does, I think it's going to pay off. I think he's going to play well."

Conway was more upbeat yesterday after speaking Monday of possible retirement. He thinks he might be able to kick late this season if he heals and the Redskins cut him, though the club is on the hook for his entire salary (because he is a vested veteran who was on the opening day roster) and could get burned by making him available to other teams. Conway cannot play again for Washington this season, as stipulated by injured reserve rules.

In other injury news, linebacker Antonio Pierce (sprained ankle) is targeting the Sept.22 game at San Francisco for his return after hoping to play this week. He tried to jog but felt continued discomfort, and club officials believe he would risk a lengthy absence by playing. Tight end Walter Rasby (sprained knee) remains unlikely to play until Oct.6 at Tennessee, after the Week 4 open date.

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