- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

Popular veteran linebacker Kevin Mitchell and wide receiver Cliff Russell headlined the list of cuts yesterday as the Washington Redskins moved to meet tomorrow’s 65-player deadline.

Washington didn’t make the cuts public, in part because it wanted players to hear from the team first and because several trades were investigated. However, a club source said last night that all 13 players whose fates had been decided had been informed.

NFL rules require Washington to cut a total of 14 players to meet tomorrow’s roster limit, and the club was still determining who the 14th would be. A trade sounded unlikely. The Redskins will have 76 players, including 11 exemptions, for Friday’s preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons. They then must trim the roster to 53 players by Sunday.

Ten players were confirmed as released: Mitchell, Russell, defensive lineman Nic Clemons, wide receiver Scott Cloman, cornerback Michael Hall, defensive lineman Norman Heuer, wide receiver John Standeford, punter Kevin Stemke, linebacker Billy Strother and defensive lineman Greg White.

None of the other three players is well-known to the public, a club source said. Even though all 13 cuts are fairly logical, coach Joe Gibbs expressed displeasure for having to weed out solid players.

“I hate the process,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got guys that worked their guts out. To me, this is the worst part of what we do. All the guys we had were good guys.”

The departures of Mitchell and Russell, a former third-round pick, weren’t surprising despite the players’ name recognition. Mitchell, 33, slipped down the depth chart this preseason, while Russell, 25, endured a series of injuries during his 2-year stay and only caught two passes.

Both might be considered casualties of the new staff’s mentality. Mitchell’s aging legs weakened his case to assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, who emphasizes speed above many other traits. And Russell’s status as a former high-round draft pick bought him no extra time under Gibbs, who has a track record of cutting lofty selections.

The pair joined safety Ifeanyi Ohalete in a group of fairly high-profile cuts by Gibbs. Ohalete, who started 25 games in 2002 and 2003, was released Aug.17 and since has become the Arizona Cardinals’ starting free safety.

Mitchell, a solid pro who was well-liked by teammates and club officials, was fairly upbeat considering the circumstances. He said the signing of middle linebacker Mike Barrow this spring and the increased playing time of Antonio Pierce this summer left him skeptical about his fate.

“I kind of expected it the way things have been going,” Mitchell said. “It kind of prepared me for it. You’ve got to take the good and the bad.”

On a team with near-constant turnover, Mitchell had emerged as one of the old hands. The 2000 free agent pickup started 13 games on Kurt Schottenheimer’s 10th-ranked defense in 2001, then played behind Jeremiah Trotter in 2002 and 2003. This spring, a brief window of hope opened when Trotter was told to seek a trade, but the Redskins picked up Barrow.

The future is unclear for Mitchell, who yesterday wasn’t thinking about a new team as much as spending a day or two unwinding with his family. His wife, Denise, is expecting their second child in January.

“I’ve been doing football for a long time,” said Mitchell, a 10-year veteran. “I’m going to take a day or two to relax. … Whatever happens, happens.”

Russell, the 87th pick overall in 2002, was released after spending much of this preseason injured. The Redskins drafted him as a project for then-coach Steve Spurrier, hoping he one day would pair NFL polish to go with his blazing speed.

But injuries dogged Russell. The most devastating was a torn ACL, which caused him to miss his entire rookie year and even limited him in 2003. This summer he pulled a hamstring early in camp and appeared in only one preseason game, Friday’s 28-3 loss at St. Louis, where he caught no passes.

As he exited, Russell remained somewhat mystified about his series of setbacks.

“I’m not sure what it was,” Russell said. “From the time I came here, I just had injury after injury. The only thing I can hope is that it’s going to be a thing of the past.”

Note — Washington worked out running back Stacey Mack, who started five games for the Houston Texans last season. Mack’s best year came in 2001 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he started 11 games and rushed for 877 yards. No signing was imminent, and the Redskins already have a crowded backfield with Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, Sultan McCullough and John Simon vying for two roster spots.

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