A.J. Johnson is not easily discouraged.
The third-year cornerback of the Washington Redskins will open the season nursing an injury for the second straight season, but he's not brooding about his misfortune.
Johnson, who missed the first 11 games last season after undergoing major reconstructive knee surgery, was sidelined for six to eight weeks Sunday night when he dislocated his right wrist while making a tackle in the third period of the Redskins' 16-7 exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It could have been worse. It could have been the leg. I'm going to look at the bright side of things. I'll be back," he said.
Johnson's injury leaves the Redskins hurting, too. They will be thin at the cornerback spot, especially since backup Sidney Johnson is out with a shoulder injury. It also means that Martin Mayhew, an obvious target for opposing quarterbacks last year, won't have anyone pressing him for the starting job.
Johnson underwent successful surgery yesterday, when Dr. Charles Jackson, the team's orthopedic physician, inserted two pins in the wrist. He is expected to miss three to five games of the regular season, but Johnson wasn't feeling sorry for himself.
"It's just something that happens. This is a contact sport. It's really not as bad as I thought it was," he said.
The pain was so intense that Johnson at first feared he might have a compound fracture of the wrist.
The dislocation is similar to the fractured wrist that sidelined Darrell Green for the last nine weeks of the 1989 season, but Johnson likes to think he's a quick healer.
When he underwent knee surgery in June 1990, he was supposed to miss the entire season and was back for the final five games.
"I've got to do it again," he said.
General manager Charley Casserly said yesterday that Sidney Johnson is expected back in a week and so he has no immediate plans to bring in another cornerback. In addition, rookie Charles Bell, a ninth-round draft pick who missed almost two weeks of camp because of the death of his 2-year-old son in Waco, Texas, has rejoined the team and will resume practicing today.
Bell has an uphill fight to make the team since Alvoid Mays and Sidney Johnson are figured to get the spots behind Green and Mayhew until A.J. Johnson returns.
Jimmy Spencer, an eighth-round draft pick, also is ahead of Bell and will try to beat out Sidney Johnson for a roster spot.
Although Spencer was victimized on the winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter by Pittsburgh's Ron Fair, he has looked good at times.
The Redskins also plan to work backup safeties Clarence Vaughn and Danny Copeland at cornerback to give them more depth at the position.
Assuming that the Redskins will have only four corners while A.J. Johnson is out, one of the backup safeties will have to play the role of the fifth cornerback.
While A.J. Johnson is out, Mayhew will remain No. 1 on the depth chart and the No. 1 target of opposing teams.
Since most teams want to stay away from Green, a four-time Pro Bowl player, Mayhew is the player they try to beat. Bubby Brister of the Steelers burned him with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Louis Lipps in the second period, although the touchdown was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty.
Mayhew did come up with seven interceptions last year, but that is easier to do when opposing teams are throwing at you.
NOTES: QB Cary Conklin and RB Ricky Ervins got good grades in the Steelers game and veteran MLB Matt Millen, a Plan B pickup from the San Francisco 49ers, also played well. . . . Brad Edward and Terry Hoage, filling in at free safety in place of the departed Todd Bowles, also were praised for good play by the coaches. . . . The blocking by the tight ends and the offensive linemen was solid, according to the coaches. . . . The Redskins will play their second exhibition Saturday night in Foxboro, Mass., against the New England Patriots.