For Gibbs, short roster long looks Elewonibi makes use of extra attention

July 19, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

CARLISLE, Pa. -- If it's near the end of the first week of training camp, Joe Gibbs must be complaining about the NFL's 80-player roster limit.

Gibbs, the Washington Redskins' coach, is one of the most vocal opponents of the cost-cutting measure adopted three years ago.

And Gibbs gets frustrated at the end of the first week when he sends the veteran receivers and tight ends home briefly and is left with half a squad.

He'll have 40 healthy players and four injured ones in camp until the veterans arrive this weekend. If he brought all the vets in sooner, the younger players wouldn't get much of an opportunity.

"I can work with it," Gibbs said yesterday. "If you're asking me what's best, this is not the best."

Gibbs gets annoyed when it's pointed out that George Halas coached a 24-man roster in 1935 and Paul Brown coached a 32-man roster in 1950.

"The guys who talk about, 'we used to do it with 23,' yah, that's Neanderthal. They did it with 23 and they lined up in the I formation and ran the same play all the time. The same guys [veterans] made it every year and there were about eight teams. Nobody [rookies] made it. We're talking about giving everybody a fair chance," Gibbs said.

He then smiled and said, "They ought to get those coaches back and let them coach it for a while and see if we all like it."

When it was noted that he might not want Paul Brown to come back, Gibbs said, "He'd probably beat everybody."

If Brown could bring back Otto Graham and Marion Motley, you'd have to like his chances against Mark Rypien and Earnest Byner.

Anyway, Gibbs will make the best of the situation and take a long look at the young players. He let them work in shorts yesterday afternoon after going against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a scrimmage Wednesday night. Tomorrow, he'll take them to Foxboro, Mass., to scrimmage the New England Patriots.

One of the young players who's been helped by the extra attention is offensive lineman Mohammed Elewonibi, a third-round draft choice a year ago who spent the season on the injured reserve.

Elewonibi is one of those project players the Redskins have had such success with in the past. He's a native of Nigeria who moved to Canada at age 11 after his parents divorced. He didn't play football until he was a freshman in junior college.

He then transferred to Brigham Young where he played two years. Though slowed by the first of six shoulder operations, he was impressive enough in his senior year to win the Outland Trophy given to the nation's best lineman -- even though he'd never heard of the trophy until he was notified he was a finalist.

His goal had been to make the All-Western Athletic Conference team -- and he wound up on a couple of All-American teams.

When he got all that attention, his first thought wasn't that he might play pro ball, but that he might get a chance to play in the Hula Bowl. He did.

"That was a fun time for me," he said.

When he was invited to the scouting combine meeting, he thought, "Maybe I'll go in the draft."

Although some scouting reports rated him a possible first-rounder on his physical ability, he was thinking fourth or fifth round and was excited to get picked on the third round by the Redskins.

He spent a season on injured reserve rebuilding his shoulder, working in the weight room and working on his run blocking. Since Brigham Young's idea of a running play is the draw, he needed a lot of work.

The results paid off this year. He's caught Gibbs' eye with his solid work in camp.

"I think he's had a good camp," Gibbs said.

In the scrimmage against the Steelers he suffered a minor hamstring pull, but never came out.

When the veterans arrive this weekend, Elewonibi will be thrust into a tough battle.

The Redskins have a lot of depth on the line with Jim Lachey, Ed Simmons, Jeff Bostic, Raleigh McKenzie, Mark Schlereth, Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Ray Brown and Mark Adickes all returning.

That's nine veterans and the Redskins usually keep only eight. His main goal is to beat out Brown for the backup tackle spot behind Lachey and Simmons.

"This is my year," Elewonibi said. "I want to prove mainly to myself that I deserve to be here."

NOTES: With the veterans due to report tomorrow, the Redskins still don't have deals Rypien, Jacoby, CB Martin Mayhew, and DL Eric Williams. . . . Rypien's agent, Mark Staninger, said that Rypien is going to remain at his home in Spokane, Wash., until he gets a deal. Staninger is talking daily with GM Charley Casserly, but hasn't been able to close the gap.

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