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WASHINGTON'S OBIT: DEFINITELY PREMATURE A LEAGUE WITH WORLDS OF VALUE A RUN ON FREE-AGENT RUNNING BACKS

Nov. 25, 1996
Nov. 25, 1996

Table of Contents
Nov. 25, 1996

Faces In The Crowd

WASHINGTON'S OBIT: DEFINITELY PREMATURE A LEAGUE WITH WORLDS OF VALUE A RUN ON FREE-AGENT RUNNING BACKS

REDSKINS REVIVAL

This is an article from the Nov. 25, 1996 issue Original Layout

As he sat in his office at Redskin Park in Ashburn, Va., last
Friday, coach Norv Turner took a deep breath, then stated the
obvious: "We're at a crisis point, especially facing what we
face the next three games." Two days later his 7-3 Skins would
begin a 12-day stretch--at Philadelphia, San Francisco at home,
at Dallas--during which they appeared to be in danger of falling
from NFC East co-leaders to wild-card hopefuls. Recent
performance prompted the bleak outlook: Washington was coming
off consecutive losses to the Bills and the Cardinals in which
its defense had given up a total of 75 points and 1,091 yards.

A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. On Sunday the
Skins came alive and beat the Eagles 26-21 at Veterans Stadium.
"I told you we'd play like champions!" linebacker Rod Stephens
said, exulting after the game. "Champions! That's us, baby!"

Contenders, at least. The Redskins are a mixture of free-agent
veterans and raw youth, a concoction that has revitalized the
offense yet stunted the defense. Against Philadelphia,
third-year quarterback Gus Frerotte found second-year tight end
Jamie Asher for two scores, while warhorses Terry Allen (84
yards rushing) and Henry Ellard (three catches for 69 yards)
were their usual stellar selves. What was even more gratifying
was that the defensive elements also showed signs of coming
together. Linebacker Ken Harvey, 31, hadn't had a sack in eight
quarters, but he had two against the Eagles. Embattled
cornerback Tom Carter and second-year defensive end Rich Owens
also played big roles.

With fellow cornerback Darrell Green, 36, playing at the top of
his game this season, Carter, a 1993 first-round pick out of
Notre Dame, has been the target of opposing offensive
coordinators. But with Philly facing fourth-and-10 at the
Washington 20 with 10 seconds left, Carter blanketed wideout
Freddie Solomon, and quarterback Ty Detmer's pass fell incomplete.

A pass-rushing specialist, Owens was a fifth-round pick out of
Lehigh in '95 who missed the first six weeks of his rookie
season with a broken arm. He stopped the Eagles' first drive by
sacking Detmer, and on the first play of Philadelphia's
penultimate drive he dropped running back Ricky Watters for an
eight-yard loss. "I got two sacks once against New Hampshire,
but I think what I did today was a little more important," Owens
said.

Washington still has to play the 49ers this Sunday and the
Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, but Turner and his staff were
reveling in what they hoped was the start of a final playoff
push. "This was the longest week of my coaching life," said
defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. "But today everybody did
something right." And because of that, the Redskins sit alone
atop the NFC East.

WORLDLY WISE

Despite losing an estimated $35 million in the last two seasons,
the six-team World League has a new three-year lease on life.
Buttressed in part by an ongoing deal with Fox to televise the
games to both European and U.S. viewers, NFL owners quietly
voted 24-6 last month to continue the European-based
spring-summer league through 1999. "I think it's a good idea,"
says Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who sent punter
Darren Bennett overseas to get valuable training with the
Amsterdam Admirals in 1995, "but I would like to see it used
more for player development."

Currently there are 110 former World League players on NFL
rosters. The Chiefs, with linebacker Tracy Simien and wideout
Sean LaChapelle, and the Broncos, with tight end Byron
Chamberlain, are among the organizations that groomed players
abroad. Other teams would be wise to follow their lead,
particularly with regard to developing young backup
quarterbacks: Danny Kanell of the Giants, Stoney Case of the
Cardinals and Heath Shuler of the Redskins, to name three, could
pick up valuable experience in the World League.

DISPATCHES

The AFC's prime Super Bowl threats--the Broncos, the Chiefs, the
Bills and the Steelers--are a combined 11-0 against the NFC this
season....Winners of two straight, the Buccaneers may have
turned the corner. They held the Chargers to three points over
the final 49 minutes of a 25-17 win on Sunday, and maligned
quarterback Trent Dilfer completed 30 of 40 passes for a
career-high 327 yards. "I kept hearing I should be tougher on
them, but the effort was there every week," first-year Bucs
coach Tony Dungy said on Monday. "I had to keep encouraging
them--not tearing them down--and telling them they'd win. I knew
they were doing what it took."...Two weeks after Lions defensive
line coach John Teerlinck was summoned to NFL offices in New
York City to discuss what the league said was a pattern of cheap
hits by his players on opposing quarterbacks, Detroit defensive
tackle Luther Elliss came in low and hit Seahawks quarterback
John Friesz on Sunday. Friesz was later sidelined with what was
diagnosed as a sprained knee ligament, but on Monday the
Seahawks announced he will be sidelined for the season with a
broken right leg. "I haven't been tackled around the knees, and
so low, so many times in one game in my career," said Friesz, a
seven-year veteran who on Saturday signed an extension that will
keep him with Seattle through 1998.... Friesz's signing means
the Seahawks are no longer interested in unemployed free agent
Jeff George, who last month rejected their six-year, $30 million
offer. Because quite a few other veterans--including Elvis
Grbac, Rick Mirer and Scott Mitchell--could become available in
the off-season, George should not expect to see another offer as
lucrative as Seattle's....The race for 1996 All-Pro kicker is no
contest. It's the Colts' Cary Blanchard, who has made 27 of 29
field goal attempts. Both of his misses, from 46 and 42 yards,
hit the upright. "I'm in one of those zones," Blanchard said
after the last of his four field goals on Sunday, a 50-yarder
with 1:24 left, provided the final points in a 34-29 win over
the Jets....Not only will Fox try to keep its NFC package when
the network's TV deal expires after next season, but it will
also try to muscle the Monday-night contract from ABC.

THE END ZONE

Weekend at JJ's: Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, Colts defensive
coordinator Jim Johnson and Steelers tackle John Jackson won.
Ravens defensive tackle James Jones--but not skill-position guys
Jimmie Johnson (Eagles) or Jack Jackson (Bears)--caught a
touchdown pass. Jimmie Jones (seven tackles, one sack) led the
Rams defense, but, like fellow defensive lineman Joe Johnson
(Saints), was a loser. Jerry Jones had no comment.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Corner Scott Turner, one of the Skins' up-and-comers, kept Eagles wideout Mark Seay under wraps.COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Hearst has found a home in Cincy, but for how long? [Garrison Hearst in game]

RUNNING TO FREEDOM

When the fifth class of NFL free agents hits the streets next
February, there figure to be plenty of quality running backs
available. The Steelers' Jerome Bettis, the league's
second-leading rusher, will be at the head of the class provided
he runs for at least 83 yards over the final five games. (A
clause in Bettis's contract stipulates that he becomes a free
agent if he rushes for at least 1,200 yards in '96.) Here are
the top prospective free-agent backs.

Player, Team, Age Comment
Jerome Bettis, Steelers, 24 In a battle with Bronco Terrell
Davis for NFL rushing title; should vie with Packers quarterback
Brett Favre for league MVP

Larry Centers, Cardinals, 28 Fullback tied for second in the
league with 69 catches; "Best back I ever played with," says
Cardinals quarterback Boomer Esiason

Garrison Hearst, Bengals, 25 Have 1,200-yard potential, will
travel; with 535 yards this season, has eclipsed Ki-Jana Carter
as the Bengals' featured back

Terry Allen, Redskins, 28 Is headed for second straight
1,300-yard season and leads league with 17 TDs--while playing on
two reconstructed knees

Robert Smith, Vikings, 24 Out for season after knee surgery,
although injury isn't as serious as first feared. Should be
healthy by April