Elliott moves from end of long line to the middle of Redskins' offense

November 19, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Matt Elliott may be the answer to a trivia question one day.

The last player selected in the 1992 collegiate draft, the Washington Redskins rookie center said yesterday, "Depending on what happens in Minnesota the next couple of weeks, I may be the last guy drafted ever."

The college draft isn't an issue in the current federal court free-agency case in Minneapolis, but it'll certainly be challenged if the players continue their winning streak in court.

At the least, Elliott said he figures to be the last 12th-rounder selected because the number of rounds in the draft are likely to be sliced even if the draft continues.

Elliott also seems intent on proving what an inexact science the draft is.

When the Redskins made Elliott the 336th and final pick last April, he was noteworthy mainly because he was a teammate at Michigan of the team's heralded first-round selection, Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.

As the last player selected, he also was feted in June during Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach, Calif., before camp.

"It was a lot of fun and they rib you, but when it's all said and done, they wish you well," Elliott said.

Nobody -- including Elliott -- dreamed how well he would wind up doing. He's anything but irrelevant to the Redskins right now.

When they go to New Orleans Monday night to play the Saints, Elliott will be the starting center.

"Who would have thunk it?" Elliott said.

Though he was a long shot, Elliott wasn't that surprised he made the team. At 6 feet 1, 265 pounds, he didn't have the size to be drafted higher, but he said the scouts can't measure the size of a player's heart.

"I always thought that, deep down, I had a chance to make it," Elliott said.

After all, when he came out of high school in Indianapolis, the University of Indiana didn't offer him a scholarship, he said, because it didn't think he was good enough to play college ball.

Michigan was the only big school to make him an offer, and that was because it saw his techniques at the school's summer camp. Elliott went on to start 35 straight games his last three seasons with the Wolverines.

Elliott, though, says that in his wildest dreams, he never thought he had a chance to start for the Redskins this year.

A series of injuries forced the Redskins to insert him at center late in the first quarter last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs when tackle Joe Jacoby went out with a back injury. When Raleigh McKenzie was shifted to guard so that Ray Brown could play tackle, Elliott became the center. Now he'll make his first start in the Monday night spotlight.

"It's exciting. It's the only thing I can say at this point. I've got a long week of practice ahead of me so I'm not going to try and think about it until that first play," he said.

It's also a strange twist that he's starting while Howard has yet to start or have a pass thrown to him.

"That's just the luck of fate," Elliott said. "He's still a good player."

Grading his work against the Chiefs last week, Elliott said, "I made a couple of mental mistakes that can be corrected by working with the first team, but I did all right."

Offensive line coach Jim Hanifan echoed that assessment. "He made a couple of mental mistakes, but he did some good things," Hanifan said.

Although there are often problems with the snap when a new center comes in, quarterback Mark Rypien had no trouble making the adjustment to Elliott.

"I thought he did an exceptional job for a guy who was thrust into playing the position," Rypien said.

With the Saints' game on national television, Elliott knows his family will be watching. The interest in sports runs deep in the family.

His father, Mike Sr., who operates a firm that manufactures walk-in freezers and coolers for commercial establishments, was a backup center to Walt Bellamy at Indiana in his college days.

His older brother, Mike Jr., 28, was a pro soccer player in Europe and his younger brother, Marc, 21, plays at Michigan. His sister, Megan, 16, is a star ice skater.

Playing the Saints will be special, too, because he went to high school with the son of the Saints' defensive coordinator, Steve Sidwell, when Sidwell served on the staff of coach Rod Dowhower at Indianapolis. It's a small world in pro football because Dowhower is now an assistant coach with the Redskins.

The toughest part for Elliott may be the waiting for the Monday night game. "The extra day is what you make of it. You want [to] make yourself nervous, or you can relax and just catch up on your film work," he said.

NOTES: X-rays revealed DT Tim Johnson sustained a broken rib against the Chiefs last Sunday, but hopes to play against the Saints with a flak jacket and is one of six players listed as probable on the injury report. . . . When the Redskins resume practice today after having two days off, CB Sidney Johnson (knee) and S Danny Copeland (neck) aren't expected to be in action. . . . Johnson and Copeland will be listed as questionable along with LB Andre Collins (back) and DL Fred Stokes (knee). . . . CB Darrell Green, who broke his forearm in the second game, isn't expected to play in New Orleans, but may practice this week for the first time since the injury.

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