As season nears end, Redskins still not bowled over by their play Special teams, Rypien a continuing concern

December 17, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- For the Washington Redskins, some things haven't changed all season.

They've spent the season tinkering with their roster and defending quarterback Mark Rypien, and they were at both again yesterday.

With two games left in the season, the Redskins still are trying to improve their special teams.

They signed Pat Eilers, who hasn't played since being cut by the Phoenix Cardinals at the start of the season, because they were unhappy with their coverage on special teams Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

Kelvin Martin returned four kickoffs for 83 yards, including a 33-yarder, and had a punt return for 18 yards. The Redskins don't like to give up kickoff returns longer than 25 yards and punt returns longer than 12 yards.

"We need another playmaker in there. We're not making as many plays as we like. Maybe we can get a little help there. We were concerned about coverage," coach Joe Gibbs said.

Eilers led the Minnesota Vikings in special-teams tackles with 22 last year, but signed with Phoenix on Plan B for a $110,000 bonus only to get cut at the end of camp.

"It was a nightmare," Eilers said of all the weeks he spent trying to find a team to sign him while he worked as a financial analyst in Minneapolis.

It's a bit late in the season for a team to be making changes, but the Redskins have been doing it all year. Eilers is the 62nd player to be active for the team this season. Last year, they had 54 players active. To make room for Eilers, they waived Mickey Washington, who was with the team only since Nov. 18.

Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach, said the one thing he wasn't blaming the players for was the Cowboys' fake punt on fourth-and-six at the Dallas 49 late in the third period. Sevier had the Redskins in a return mode because he never expected the Cowboys to try a fake with a 17-10 lead midway in the second half.

"It was a real gutsy call. It takes a little bit of courage. They had it and pulled it off," Sevier said.

As the Redskins continue to scramble to find ways to start clicking, the one change they're not going to make is at quarterback. This late in the season, it's too late to switch to Cary Conklin. They'll go as far as Rypien can take them.

When Rypien completed 15 of 18 against the New York Giants two weeks ago, Gibbs hoped he was finally finding his rhythm. But last week against the Cowboys, he completed only 12 of 29, and the defense had to pull it out.

Gibbs, though, said it wasn't as bad as it looked.

"I think some of those, a fan would see and say, 'That's his fault,' and several of those aren't his fault. I'm taking up for him and yet I'm saying about five of those throws should have been better throws," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the majority of the 17 incompletions weren't Rypien's fault. For example, Terry Orr dropped one that was intercepted; Art Monk didn't hear an audible and the ball was thrown behind him; Gary Clark was held on a deep pass down the sideline and at least one blitz break-off was missed by Ricky Sanders.

On Gibbs' report card, Rypien had three bad passes and two low ones -- one of which Sanders caught.

The most glaring miss was the flea flicker in the first half when he had Clark open for a touchdown but threw a poor pass.

"I don't think Ryp's happy with that game. He feels he could have played better in that game, for sure," Gibbs said. "How do you rate that? He missed some big opportunities. If we hit one of those, at the end we're kicking a field goal to win it."

Instead, Gibbs had to gamble for a touchdown only to have the defense pull it out on the Troy Aikman fumble after Rypien failed to connect with Clark in the end zone.

The one question Gibbs wouldn't answer was how he rates Rypien's season so far.

"I'll let you know when the season is over," he said. He pointed out that Rypien is 31-9 in his past 40 games as a starter.

How does he rate him now?

"I'm not going to say right now. We're still in the process. He's had some good days and he's had some days when he's been off. We'll see in the end what's going to happen," he said.

The process continues Sunday when the Redskins go to Philadelphia to play an Eagles team that has a battered secondary. Ben Smith hasn't returned from last year, Andre Waters is out for this season and Wes Hopkins was inactive this year. The Redskins should have the receivers open if Rypien can hit them.

Even Rypien said he's running out of time.

"The season is going to be over with soon. Somewhere along the way, we're going to have to make some plays," he said.

NOTES: S Danny Copeland was named NFC defensive Player of the Week for coming up with two fumbles in the victory over the Cowboys, including the game-winner. . . . LB Wilber Marshall declined to comment on the complaint Dallas owner Jerry Jones made to the league about his body slam of TE Jay Novacek. The Washington coaches weren't happy with it either because he got a penalty and almost hurt Brad Edwards' knees when he threw Novacek into Edwards.

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