HERNDON,VA. — HERNDON, Va. -- For Mark Rypien and Brian Mitchell, it wasn't just an ordinary practice yesterday.
Rypien called signals in a Washington Redskins practice for the first time since he injured his left knee on Sept. 23 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Mitchell, a rookie who was pressed into emergency action as a quarterback Monday night, got his first chance to work with the first-string offense as a running back.
Both players looked sharp and should play key roles Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Rypien will start at quarterback, and Mitchell will share running-back duties with Earnest Byner because Gerald Riggs is out with an arch injury.
"I had no problems," Rypien said. "I'd say unless something drastic happens, there's no doubt I'll be able to go on Sunday."
It'll be the fifth time Rypien has become the starter.
"I don't keep track," he said. "That's for you guys to do. In my first year, I was in and out two or three times, and last year I started [the first eight and was benched] and came back late."
Rypien has been benched twice and knocked out twice with injuries the past three years.
"You don't like constant changes, but that's what we've had," coach Joe Gibbs said.
This will be the third straight week the Redskins have started a different quarterback.
Stan Humphries started two weeks ago against the Detroit Lions and was replaced in the third quarter by Jeff Rutledge, who started against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. Both Humphries and Rutledge were hurt in that game.
Humphries is headed for the injured-reserve list with a sprained knee. Rutledge sat out practice with a sprained thumb, but threw on the sidelines and said he'll be ready if he's needed.
Gibbs said he'll wait until later in the week to decide whether Gary Hogeboom or Rutledge will be the backup Sunday. Rutledge also does the holding when he's the lineup, although punter Ralf Mojsiejenko can handle those chores.
Gibbs planned to give some work with the first-string offense to Hogeboom, who has run the scout team against the Redskins' defense in practice. But when Gibbs saw how sharp Rypien looked, he let Rypien take all the snaps.
"I was kind of curious how he'd do, but he looked very good," Gibbs said. Rypien completed 12 of 19 passes in the practice.
Gibbs said he asked Rypien after practice: " 'Do you feel anything at all that's the least bit bothering you?' He said, 'No.' "
Gibbs said Rypien was "champing at the bit" to practice last week, and the coach thought the quarterback would be ready to throw in practice this week.
"But I didn't dream it was going to be under this set of circumstances," Gibbs said.
It's always a concern when a quarterback is rushed into the lineup after a long layoff.
Doug Williams had sat out almost a year with a back ailment, but when he looked sharp in practice, Gibbs decided to start him against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas won, 13-3, for its only victory of the season.
"Ideally, you'd like to take another three or four weeks [before playing Rypien]," Gibbs said. "You'd like for him to have more work, but you have to look at your alternatives."
Gibbs' only completely healthy alternative is Hogeboom, who's yet to take a snap in a Washington game.
Rypien's advantage over Williams is that he went through a training camp and started the first three games, so his layoff hasn't been as long.
Mitchell, who hasn't had a carry at running back this year, said he is eager to get his chance to carry the ball against the Saints.
The rookie from Southwestern Louisiana said although he had fun being an emergency quarterback ,he knows his future is at a running back.
"I think it's going to be one of the greatest moments of my life," he said.
Mitchell may give the running game an extra dimension because he's quicker than Byner and Riggs. Byner's longest run this year was 16 yards, and Riggs' was 20.
Mitchell said he hopes to break a long one. "A lot of running backs try to take it all the way every time they touch the ball," he said. "That's the attitude I have. I hope I can get a chance to get outside and see what I can do."
Mitchell also will be pressed into service as a punt and kick returner because of the injuries to Walter Stanley and Joe Howard.
"He's going to have a big role for us," Gibbs said.
* Guard Russ Grimm (ankle) and defensive lineman Charles Mann (knee) were held out of practice with minor injuries, but they expect to be able to play Sunday.