3rd down, Skins have 3 to go

August 01, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

CARLISLE, PA. -- Kelvin Bryant doesn't work here anymore.

After four seasons, 22 touchdowns and more than his share of injuries, Bryant was given his walking papers last winter by the Washington Redskins. He was a third-down specialist, known as much for his frequent visits to the injured reserve list as his big-play forays to the end zone.

Life after K.B. should prove interesting for the Redskins' third-down offense. Their search for his successor goes on daily at training camp, and there is no shortage of candidates. The top three:

* Veteran mainstay Earnest Byner. He runs the most precise pass routes on the team, adjusts well to the passing scheme and remains an elusive back at age 28. Yet, he is the running back on first and second down, and it's questionable whether the team will ask him to play third down, too. Only if Gerald Riggs regains the starting job would Byner appear to be $H available for the job.

* Rookie Ricky Ervins. The third-round draft pick out of Southern Cal may be only 5 feet 7, but he meets the Redskins' requirements.

At a very stout 200 pounds, he is a willing and so far capable pass protector. Through four preseason scrimmages, he has proven he can catch. Ervins made two long touch

down runs on passes in those scrimmages against other teams.

* Second-year man Brian Mitchell. A quarterback at Southwestern Louisiana, Mitchell is marvelously talented but still learning the nuances of NFL running back/receiver. He averaged 20 yards per kickoff return last season and 9 yards per punt return, and his first responsibility this season will be on special teams.

Don Breaux, who coaches the running backs, said that if the Redskins opened the season right now, Byner would be the replacement for Bryant, who was not signed after being made available in Plan B free agency last winter.

"I feel comfortable with Earnest," Breaux said. "The thing that made Kelvin a great receiver was he had the ability to get downfield [deep] from the backfield. And our opponents respected him. He saw a lot of double coverage.

"I think Earnest has the ability to make a play to win a game, too. And I think Ricky has shown he has it, too. Brian is an excellent candidate, but now it's a matter of consistency with him, of seeing things enough times."

Coach Joe Gibbs seems intrigued with the idea of incorporating Ervins into the third-down offense. Although Ervins averaged just 2.3 yards per rushing attempt in the scrimmages, he averaged 10.4 on eight receptions, most on screen passes.

"Ervins is making big plays out of small things," Gibbs said. "He comes from a good background; he's powerfully built. He looks prettygood as a receiver. And I think he's tough enough to be a pass protector. I think he'll contend for the third-down spot."

After the lean, athletic Bryant, Ervins, with his tree-stump physique, is a different looking receiver. He is not in the mold of Dave Meggett, the New York Giants' third-down scatback, who is lighter (180 pounds) and quicker.

"Granted he's not the biggest target," Breaux said of Ervins. "But he can give you some plays catching the ball. We didn't know what we'd have in him as a receiver, but he's running disciplined routes and has quickness for separation [from the defender]."

Ervins, a year older than Mitchell at 23, said he's willing "to do whatever they want me to. They put a big emphasis on third down. Making an impact feels great."

Mitchell's strength has been his versatility. As an option quarterback at Southwestern Louisiana, he became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5,000 yards (5,447) and rush for 3,000 (3,335). His 47 rushing touchdowns is an NCAA record for a quarterback.

He was drafted in the fifth round in 1990 as a running back, but in a Monday night massacre at Philadelphia last season, Mitchell was pressed into duty as the Redskins' emergency quarterback. Ironically, he produced the team's only offen

sive touchdown in a 28-14 loss.

"I've always felt I was a running back playing the quarterback position," he said.

The Redskins have asked him to do a lot of things he had never done before. Like return kicks, catch passes and block 250-pound linebackers.

"The coaches tell me that I'm versatile and one of the best athletes on the team," Mitchell said. "Being asked to block kind of feeds my attitude. I love a challenge. To put my body at 207 pounds against a guy 238 or 250 and win the battle feels good."

For now, though, it appears Mitchell will be asked primarily to return kicks.

"He's going to have to take a big load in special teams," Breaux said, "and we'll see what develops on third down."

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