- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

If football positions were ranked by glamour, H-back probably would fall somewhere between third-string quarterback and the guy who holds the ball on kickoffs when it gets too windy.

If those same positions were ranked by importance in Joe Gibbs’ offensive scheme, H-back might be on par with quarterback.

Don’t laugh. Much of Gibbs’ offense is centered around this unusual, part-fullback, part-tight end role, so it should come as no surprise the Washington Redskins have made it a priority this offseason.

“That’s a key position for us,” offensive coordinator Don Breaux said yesterday as the Redskins’ first minicamp of the year concluded. “And there aren’t a lot of those guys around. We have big expectations for that, and maybe our standards are high.”

So high that perhaps no other position on the field this weekend looked so deep with talent and possibilities. Washington had five H-backs or tight ends participating in minicamp in Byron Chamberlain, Mike Sellers, Walter Rasby, Robert Royal and Kevin Ware.

That list doesn’t include Bryan Johnson, who had his $4.3million offer sheet matched by the Redskins on Friday. Johnson, however, may not fit into the equation much longer. Washington is expected to trade the fourth-year fullback to the Chicago Bears today, sources familiar with the likely deal said last night.

Whether the Johnson deal goes through, Gibbs still may not be done looking for H-backs. One of the prime targets for Washington’s first-round pick in next month’s draft (No.5 overall) is Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., a dynamic pass catcher who club sources believe would fit in perfectly as an H-back.

Put them all together and Washington’s coaching staff should have no shortage of capable H-backs and tight ends to choose from come training camp this summer.

“Some of them are going to separate themselves from the rest,” Breaux said. “There’s going to be some real competition.”

Why such importance on a seemingly inconsequential position? The answer lies in the fact Gibbs and his assistants feel the position is anything but inconsequential.

Unlike Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense, in which tight ends and fullbacks were often benched in favor of a third or fourth wide receiver, Gibbs’ system places a premium on these positions.

“It’s like night and day,” Chamberlain said when comparing last year’s offense to this year’s. “[Gibbs’] system is definitely going to utilize our tight ends and our H-backs. We’re going to be an integral part of the offense.”

Gibbs uses the tight end almost exclusively as an extra blocker on the offensive line, a role that seems to fit both Rasby and Royal. The H-back, meanwhile, is asked to do any number of things from any number of locations on the field.

“He’s got to be a blocker, he’s got to be a pass protector and he’s got to be able to run routes,” Breaux said. “It’s a unique position, really.”

The H-back can line up in the backfield, on the line or — as is often the case — is put into motion. On one play, he may be asked to serve as lead blocker for tailback Clinton Portis. The next, he may be sprinting 15 yards downfield to catch a pass.

“That’s a tough position to play,” assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel said. “You have to be super, super smart, and you have to have some athletic ability.”

The Redskins believe they have several players who fit that mold in Chamberlain, Sellers and Ware, and they likely would use Winslow Jr. there if they select him in the draft. Both Chamberlain and Sellers have excelled as H-backs, though each comes with question marks.

A former Pro Bowl tight end with the Minnesota Vikings, Chamberlain was a bust of a midseason acquisition last year. He appeared in only four games, caught just four passes for 29 yards and had conditioning issues.

The 32-year-old would seem to have a golden opportunity to reinvigorate his career in Gibbs’ system, but he disappointed several observers at minicamp this weekend when he showed up well over his listed playing weight of 250 pounds.

“There’s a long way to go before [training] camp,” Chamberlain said. “Right now, I’m in just as good of shape as anybody out here.”

Sellers, meanwhile, returns to the Redskins after an unsuccessful stint with the Cleveland Browns (where he faced drug charges) and two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. Once a valued lead blocker for Stephen Davis, the 28-year-old hopes to get his career back on track with his old team.

“It’s a perfect fit for me,” Sellers said. “I wouldn’t accept anything less than to get back to where I was before. I left [Washington] as a starter. I want to come back as a starter.”

Whoever ends up winning the H-back job will find himself playing a key role in Gibbs’ offense. Even if it comes without any glamour.

“It’s totally different from any other position because you have to know pretty much every other position on the field,” Sellers said. “You can line up at any position at any given time and be asked to run whatever they want to run. In a sense, you have to know as much as the quarterback.”

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