- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Washington Redskins made a much-needed upgrade to their special teams yesterday by signing safety Pierson Prioleau, the first of two recently released players the club was pursuing.

Prioleau, 27, led the Buffalo Bills in special-teams tackles (30) last season and has experience with three former Bills assistants now on the Redskins’ staff: assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, safeties coach Steve Jackson and special teams coach Danny Smith.

Although the coverage units on special teams don’t gather many headlines, coach Joe Gibbs made it a priority to upgrade that area. Last year Smith was forced to piece together units with inexperienced players. Gibbs said Prioleau was the first of “three to five” intended special teams pickups.

“Just having a group of guys that Danny can kind of lean on there is real important for us,” Gibbs said. “Given the depth that we had, I thought our special teams played real well last year. But we’d like to up the play with more core-group guys.”

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ other recently released target, defensive end Courtney Brown, completed a visit to Denver and was scheduled to arrive in the Washington area last night. Brown, the 2000 draft’s first overall pick (and coincidentally Prioleau’s cousin), will undergo a physical today — a crucial procedure given his extensive history of injuries.

Brown’s evaluation will determine whether Washington continues its earnest pursuit of the former Penn State star and, if so, how large a contract the Redskins offer. Brown finished the past four seasons on injured reserve, participated in just two games last year and reportedly failed Cleveland’s physical before being cut by the Browns on Monday.

“He’d not have been released if not for the physical part of it,” Gibbs noted. “He’s had a number of injuries and been on IR. So I think anybody … [would] check all they physical stuff and evaluate that.”

Interestingly, Gibbs drew a parallel between last year’s decision to sign cornerback Walt Harris and the club’s current consideration of Brown, perhaps signaling the type of offer Washington might make.

Last spring Harris, who had just undergone a risky knee reconstruction, received a three-year, $4.1 million deal that included a $750,000 signing bonus. The offer also had incentives, and by staying healthy Harris earned an extra $1 million. Harris now is expected to start following the departure of Fred Smoot.

Prioleau grew up in a family of Redskins fans and starred at Virginia Tech before being drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers. In 2001 he latched on with the Bills, where coaching from Williams, Jackson and Smith allowed him to perform at a higher level. That experience played a big role in his decision to sign with Washington.

“In San Francisco I took a lot of things for granted. I wasn’t maximizing my potential,” Prioleau said. “When I got [to Buffalo], I learned a lot. Those guys really know the football game. They know a lot about defenses schematically and [about] just playing. They’re real Frank Beamer-type guys.”

Beamer, the longtime Virginia Tech coach and special-teams guru, surely played a role in Prioleau’s development. But performing on special teams often comes down to simple desire, and Prioleau — known as “Mr. Utility” at Virginia Tech — has no shortage of that.

“I’m excited,” Prioleau said. “I’d love to be a part of that group. Special teams is a good thing. You’ve got to enjoy it to be good at it. I might not be the best at it, but I sure do enjoy it.”

With the Bills, Prioleau won his share of “Big Stick” awards, a team honor for hard hits on special teams that Smith brought to Washington. Prioleau joked that although he doesn’t know what his uniform number will be in Washington, “you might as well put my initials on that Big Stick.”

Prioleau also will get a chance to compete for reserve time on Williams’ defense, which uses multiple safeties and myriad packages.

“He is a tough, smart and accountable player,” Williams said in a statement. “He is a good safety with a big engine that puts 100 percent effort into everything he does. He fits well into our multiple packages and is very good on the blitz. We are tremendously excited to have him to contribute both on defense and on special teams.”

Note — The Redskins released their four-game preseason schedule, which features home games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers sandwiched between exhibitions at Carolina and Baltimore. The Steelers game will be televised by Fox on Aug. 26, and the Ravens game will be played Sept. 1; the first two games are slated to occur sometime between Aug. 11 and 15 and Aug. 18 and 22, respectively.

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