Rough road is no detour for Redskin Rookie DE tackles test with defiance PRO FOOTBALL

August 12, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

CARLISLE, Pa. -- When coach Richie Petitbon was watching the videotape of a practice early in camp, he was impressed by the play of one of the defensive ends.

Petitbon first thought it was Charles Mann until he took a closer look and realized he actually was seeing Sterling Palmer, the Florida State rookie who was drafted on the fourth round.

Being confused with Mann, an 11-year veteran, is quite a compliment for a rookie, but it might be more appropriate to compare Palmer to another former Redskins defensive lineman, Dexter Manley.

They share the same outspoken personality.

"Everybody comes in my room and talks trash," Palmer said. "I'm just wild. Anything could come out of my mouth."

To say nothing of the tattoos of the grim reaper on his arm and leg.

"People relate me to the grim reaper as far as my style of play. When I hit people, it's total darkness," he said.

Palmer, though, has avoided the drug scene that eventually ruined Manley's career, although he grew up with drug dealers in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"You see guys ride around with nice cars and all the women and stuff and then you look and say, 'I want to be like him,' even though he's not doing the right thing. It's hard to veer away," he said.

Palmer did veer away, although he counts some among his friends.

"I see them in the park, but they know not to bring their business around me. They're not going to endanger me. I'm one of the people they take pride in," he said.

Palmer, 6 feet 5 and 268 pounds, has overcome a lot of adversity, including the death of his mother when he was a teen-ager.

"I haven't suppressed all the anger," he said. "I feel the world owes me something for taking my mom away at a young age. I couldn't sit back and be a regular teen-ager."

He said he was once labeled a juvenile delinquent.

"You get in trouble when you're a little guy. In South Florida, it's pretty rough and there are a lot of things you automatically want and you see people out there having those things. You try to get them so you may take something that's not yours. You do it because you need it," he said.

Besides coping with a tough neighborhood while being raised by his grandmother, he had to overcome a learning disability, asthma, nearsightedness and a controversy over his final season at Florida State when he became a part-time player in his junior year.

The story of what happened at Florida State last year is somewhat murky. "I can say that everybody bad-mouthed me. I said some things. We were all wrong. Bottom line. It was everybody's fault," he said.

He was unhappy being switched from inside linebacker to the outside and said he played only six plays a game on defense.

Jim Gladden, an assistant coach at Florida State, said he actually alternated with Reggie Freeman, a second-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints. He said Freeman played the run and Palmer the pass.

"We had some disagreements about where he should play, but he didn't leave here with the whole world mad at him," Gladden said. "We're disappointed he left. He's a spunky, live guy, not to the point where he was unmanageable by any means. He requires a little bit of special handling. There's nothing wrong with him as a person, but he's had a tough life. He had unbelieveable ability."

The controversy made the scouts leery and he still was available on the fourth round when the Redskins took a gamble on him. So far, Palmer and the Redskins couldn't be happier the way things turned out.

Some of his former teammates, including Dan Footman, who went in the second round to the Cleveland Browns, got more money, but he'd rather be in Washington.

"They're hating life. They hate the whole city. It's dirty, potholes all over the place. They say with the coaching staff, they're going through so much. I say, 'Hey, you're making more than I am,' " he said.

Meanwhile, he fit right in with the Redskins after overcoming an abdominal pull. Petitbon lauded him for his play in the Cleveland game.

"I could see him get a gang of sacks for us," Petitbon said.

Playing in Miami against the Dolphins on Saturday night will be a treat for Palmer because he can play in front of his family and friends, but he said he's only buying tickets for his immediate family.

"I don't have the money for a whole bunch of tickets," he said.

Palmer is eager to prove he has more than just potential. He won't try to be another Mann or Manley, though.

"The only person I know how to be is Sterling Palmer. If they expect me to be a great player and still be Sterling Palmer, that's fine," he said.

NOTES: Despite his bruised thigh, WR Desmond Howard, last year's top draft pick, returned to practice yesterday. . . . This year's first pick, CB Tom Carter, returned to practice after being sidelined two weeks with two cracked bones in his back. . . . One player, OL Paul Sevier, was ruled out of the Miami game with a shoulder injury although several others, including DL Tim Johnson (ribs), DL Jason Buck (ribs) and OL Jim Lachey (knee), probably won't play.

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