Thursday, August 12, 2004

Much as he would like to lament the loss of Jon Jansen for the season, Joe Bugel knows it’s not going to bring his trusty starting right tackle back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

Nor is it going to help Kenyatta Jones prepare to take over in Jansen’s stead.

“Things happen for a reason,” said Bugel, the Washington Redskins assistant head coach for offense. “I don’t know the reason Jon Jansen got hurt. But right now, Kenyatta has a chance to be a hero on this football team. He has a big pair of shoes to fill, but he can become a hero in this city.”

Jones, a fourth-year veteran who started 11 games at right tackle for the New England Patriots in 2002, will get his first test Saturday night when he lines up with the Redskins’ first-string offense against the Carolina Panthers. Washington’s coaching staff is committed to giving the 25-year-old first crack at winning the job, but the club is also looking at other options should Jones falter.

The first step was yesterday’s signing of 41-year-old lineman Ray Brown, a relic from Joe Gibbs’ previous coaching stint. Brown, who played for the Redskins from 1989 to 1995 and has started at least 14 games each of the last 11 seasons, will provide depth and veteran leadership at both guard and tackle.

“We just think he’s the right kind of guy,” Gibbs said. “He’s a super person. He worked out for us this morning, and we decided that it was smart for us to sign him.”

Brown’s return to Washington after nearly a decade away drew plenty of attention at Redskin Park yesterday, but the real spotlight will be on Jones in coming days and weeks.

An afterthought of an acquisition last November, Jones suddenly finds himself starting at one of the most important positions on the field — the blindside protector for left-handed quarterback Mark Brunell.

It’s a challenge Jones sounds ready to accept.

“Despite how it happened, I’m very excited,” he said. “Anytime you get an opportunity to start on any NFL team, it’s a great pleasure. It’s nothing new to me, but it’s something new to me in D.C.”

The Redskins certainly believe Jones can handle the pressure. Bugel, who knows a thing or two about offensive linemen, has been touting Jones’ abilities since minicamp in March.

Bugel had the confidence to start Jones at right guard in place of Randy Thomas, who had a nagging knee injury, for Monday night’s Hall of Fame game against the Broncos. And he has the confidence to start Jones at right tackle Saturday against the Panthers, putting him in a one-on-one matchup with Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.

“He played real good at right guard the other night,” Bugel said. “But moving from guard to tackle, you know, it’s a different world out there. You’re by yourself. … I think in the first five minutes, we’ll find out if Kenyatta can mark that post over there.”

Jones’ NFL career to date has been marked by promise and wasted opportunities. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots as a rookie in 2001, then became a starter the following year. After undergoing surgery on both knees, he was in line to regain his starting job last October, only to get released following his arrest for assault and battery.

Jones was arrested after throwing a cup of boiling water on his personal assistant, Mark Paul, as the latter sat on a toilet in Jones’ home. Jones called the incident a prank gone awry, but Paul pressed charges and in April, Jones wound up receiving one year’s probation for the incident.

About a month after getting released by the Patriots, Jones signed with the Redskins, hoping he would get another shot at starting in the NFL.

“It’s a great opportunity to re-establish my name and what I can do,” he said yesterday. “I was tormented because [Paul] was a friend. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I learned it.”

The Redskins will be counting on Jones to hold down the starting right tackle job in Jansen’s wake. They’ll be counting on Brown to provide veteran leadership for the rest of the offensive line.

After starting all 16 games last season for the Detroit Lions, Brown remained at his Northern California home this summer, hoping to get a call from another NFL club. The Redskins contacted him late Monday night, and by yesterday morning the veteran of 18 professional seasons had impressed club officials enough during a workout to merit a contract.

“I knew I wanted to play football. I just never envisioned this happening,” said Brown, who is the third-oldest non-kicker currently playing in the NFL, behind Jerry Rice and Doug Flutie. “I’ve been through a lot of things, I’ve seen a lot of things and I’m going to try to share it as much with my teammates as it was shared with me.”

The Redskins also tried out two other free-agent linemen yesterday, former Miami Dolphins guard Jamie Nails and former Broncos tackle Blake Brockermeyer. Ultimately, they settled on Brown, who by season’s end will be 42 years old.

“He’s a huge person. It takes a taxi to get around him,” Bugel said. “We always loved him. He’s kind of a super special player.”

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