A.J. Johnson healthy, ready to play

November 27, 1990|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON,VA. — HERNDON, Va. -- Joe Gibbs finally got a glimmer of good news yesterday.

The beleaguered coach of the Washington Redskins, after showing his players the videotape yesterday of their poor showing in the 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, found out that one of his starting cornerbacks is healthy again for the first time this year.

A.J. Johnson, who started the last eight games last year, but has missed this entire season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in June, told Gibbs yesterday that he's 100 percent and ready to play.

Gibbs said it's possible Johnson may play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

The timing couldn't be better because the Redskins will be facing one of the National Football League's top passers, Dan Marino, and they need a victory badly.

In three of their last five games, the Redskins play the top two teams in the AFC Eastern Division (Miami and Buffalo) and the leader in the NFC Central (Chicago).

Last season, the Redskins swept their last five games, but they didn't beat a winning team in that span.

"It'll be a big hurdle for us. We're going to be the underdogs and we're going to have to see if we're good enough to do it. We're going to have to play great against teams that are going to come in rated a lot better than us. We're going to fight our guts out. We'll see what we're made of," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said he didn't think an 8-8 record would make the expanded playoffs. If he's right, the Redskins will have to win at least three of their last five. They also will face the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, teams with losing records.

If Johnson is able to play, it should bolster the Washington defense, which is ranked 17th in the league.

Gibbs liked the way he played in the last eight games last season as a starter after Darrell Green was injured. The Redskins had been looking forward to pairing him with Green this season, but they had to scrub that plan when he injured his knee in the off-season.

After Johnson underwent the knee surgery in June, some doctors predicted he would be out a year.

Johnson didn't like that diagnosis.

"I was hardheaded," he said. "I wasn't going to listen to what the doctors had to say. I was going to listen to my knees. If I had sat back and listened to the doctors, I'd probably still be limping around."

Johnson underwent extensive rehabilitation and returned to the practice field three weeks ago. He's passed every test and is ready to go in a game.

Gibbs sounded eager to have him back.

"He had a little fire about him and [he had a] leadership [role] even though he's a little bitty guy [5 feet 8]. He played extremely well. I think he was a real plus to our football team. I think he's a valuable little guy," Gibbs said.

Even if Johnson starts out as a nickel back, he seems to be in a position to beat out Martin Mayhew for a starting spot.

Gibbs also said he hopes that Ed Simmons, who has been hampered by a knee injury, is ready to return to duty. Veteran Joe Jacoby has struggled as a starter while filling in for Jacoby.

Gibbs is sticking with Earnest Byner as a full-time running back even though he was held to 39 yards in 14 carries against the Cowboys.

"It's not Earnest. It's all of us. People have to block and you have to call the right plays, which is my responsibility, and you've got to block people and then you have to carry it. I'm not contemplating a change there. I just want to get us going," he said.

Gibbs said Brian Mitchell would continue to concentrate on returning kicks and Kelvin Bryant will continue in his role as a pass receiver out of the backfield.

With Gerald Riggs on the injured reserve list, that leaves Byner as the team's running back.

If anything, Gibbs sounds as if he wants to stick with the running game longer than he has in recent games.

"We're real good throwing the football so sometimes I probably go that way a little too quick because we're good at it. I think we've got to be more balanced and we've got to be able to run the football," he said.

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