- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Washington Redskins yesterday wrapped up a quick bid to be defensive tackle Darrell Russell’s second chance, signing the two-time Pro Bowl player with a past to a contract worth $790,000 over the season’s final nine games.

Russell, who missed the past 11/2 seasons while suspended, capped a whirlwind tour on owner Dan Snyder’s private jet by agreeing to a deal in the afternoon. An NFL source said “seven or eight” other clubs were interested in Russell and that his next scheduled visit was to the Dallas Cowboys, Washington’s opponent Sunday.

Mixing a couple ill-advised jokes with some seemingly genuine contrition about his missteps in recent years, Russell said he appreciated the Redskins pulling him off the NFL blotter and giving him a chance to work his way back to stardom.

“I think Snyder’s taking a big gamble with me because look at my past and the way everybody views me at this current time,” Russell said. “Whether he needs a D-tackle or not, I think enough people are on his back as it is. All I can do is be thankful for him and [coach Steve] Spurrier to give me this opportunity.”

Spurrier called the signing “a team decision” and said he approved it after talking to several assistant coaches (including offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was at Southern California briefly with Russell) and a number of players (including defensive end Regan Upshaw, who played alongside Russell in Oakland in 2000 and 2001).

“He’s never been convicted of anything, except having ecstasy in his system,” Spurrier said. “I feel like after meeting him, getting to know him a little bit, he’s worthy of a second chance to get his life straightened out. He’s on a one-year deal, not a whole bunch of money involved. We’ll see if he can play hard and get back on course.”

A positive test for the drug ecstasy is what landed Russell on a one-year suspension starting in January 2002. While suspended, he was charged with drugging a woman and videotaping two friends raping her. And while suspended and awaiting trial for the sex offenses, he was arrested in Nevada for suspicion of drunken driving, and he reportedly returned to a legal brothel after posting bail.

The rape charges were dropped Sept.12, 2002, for a lack of evidence. Russell, his suspension having been made indefinite by the NFL, finally was reinstated Monday after nearly a 20-month absence.

Spurrier’s attempts to shrug off Russell’s past to reporters were not met well.

“We don’t have a lot to lose,” Spurrier said. “We may take a bad hit PR-wise. But he’s not been convicted of the charges against him. There’s a lot of players in this league that had a lot more serious charges against him than what he had.”

Reporters countered that Russell’s 25 felony counts were pretty serious.

“Well, he’s not in jail, is he?” the coach replied. “And the NFL says he can play. When the NFL says they’re eligible to play, they’re eligible to play. And they’re pretty thorough on who can play and who can’t.”

The Redskins’ decision, according to vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, came down to positive recommendations when the club did its background research.

“We unturned every stone, talked to everybody, looked at every situation, and we were comfortable with all the information we found,” Cerrato said. “That’s why we did what we did. We did our homework.”

Asked if there is any risk involved with the signing, Cerrato replied, “No, because over the last year and a half, I think he’s grown up a lot. He’s been living with Mom and all that. He sees that this is the start of a new life for him. He’s looking forward to this opportunity.”

Club officials expect Russell to play Sunday in Dallas, and his new teammates are eager for the pass rush he should provide for a defense that has just 10 sacks, fewer than all but three NFL teams. Eventually, Russell should play all three downs and provide the interior threat that Daryl Gardener did last season.

“His physical presence is what’s exciting about it,” defensive end Bruce Smith said. “He’s 6-5, almost 340. We know he can get a push up the middle.”

Now Russell, 27, must prove he has left behind his immature past. Besides the drug and legal difficulties, Russell was chronically tardy to meetings and practices in Oakland, and a source said earlier this week that he never took responsibility for his missteps.

That’s why yesterday’s jokes about the recommendations of Jackson and Upshaw (“I didn’t think it would be hard because I’m such a great person”) and his explanation of his past (“They’re all lies; everyone hates me”) generated few laughs.

However, Russell also said he was “very concerned about being accepted” by his new teammates — some of whom early this week questioned whether he should be signed — and he pledged not to embarrass his new team.

“I’m going to do all I can to help the Redskins,” Russell said. “And as far as my decisions off the field, I will always have the welfare of the Redskins in mind. And I want to carry myself as a better person, not only for this league but as a Redskin.”

Notes — Cornerback Rashad Bauman remained on crutches with his sprained ankle in a boot. He said he won’t practice today either, but he expressed confidence that he’ll play at Dallas.

Bauman’s status is particularly important because starting cornerback Fred Smoot remains unlikely to play with a fractured sternum. Smoot still appeared to be in pain but said his visit with doctors Tuesday went well and that there’s actually a chance he might play. …

Defensive tackle Jermaine Haley practiced with a giant cast on his hand to protect his broken thumb. The wrap around his thumb was particularly large, and he said jokingly, “I’m ready to hitchhike now.” Haley still wasn’t sure if he would play Sunday, saying the decision is in coaches’ hands.

Haley and defensive tackle Martin Chase practiced behind Bernard Holsey and Lional Dalton. From the appearance, Chase, who is nursing a sore calf, could be released today to make room for Russell.

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