Redskins lose Lachey to knee injury for season Elewonibi vaulted into starter's role

August 17, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Washington Redskins suffered their first major setback yesterday when they learned offensive tackle Jim Lachey will need surgery to repair a torn knee ligament and will be lost for the season.

Lachey suffered the injury in the first series of the first exhibition game last Monday night against the Cleveland Browns, but thought it was minor and finished the series before coming out of the game.

Although it first was diagnosed as a hyper-extended knee, the Redskins became concerned when it swelled up last Tuesday.

The first magnetic resonance imaging exam they conducted last week was inconclusive because of the swelling, but a second one yesterday revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. That ligament is the primary stabilizing ligament in the knee joint.

Lachey sprained the same knee in the fifth week last season and missed six games. A three-time Pro Bowler, he is considered one of the best offensive linemen in the game. His $1.35 million salary -- achieved after holding out all of last year's camp -- made him the highest-paid lineman in the league before free agency pushed up salaries.

Until Lachey went down, this had been almost a perfect training camp for new coach Richie Petitbon. The team had suffered no major injuries and only one player, Ricky Ervins, held out, and he came in before the first exhibition game.

But Petitbon, who's in his 35th year as a player and a coach in the NFL and once played for George Halas, isn't the type to worry about things he can't control.

"It's a loss, a big loss, but we have to go on with what we have and find a way," he said.

Lachey's injury vaults Mo Elewonibi, who's in his fourth season with the team, but who has played only four regular-season games, into the starting spot at left tackle.

Elewonibi, a third-round draft pick out of Brigham Young in 1990, has a reputation for being injury-prone. He spent two years on injured reserve but got a chance to start for four games last year when Lachey went out, but was then lost for the year with a knee sprain.

Elewonibi signed a one-year contract this year at $275,000, gambling that he'll have a lot of leverage as a free agent next year if he stays healthy.

Petitbon said Elewonibi played well against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night. "It's a big chance for him. The way we feel, when somebody goes down, it's an opportunity for somebody else," he said.

General manager Charley Casserly said: "The stat of the day is: What was our record with Elewonibi as a starter last year?"

Casserly pointed out that it was 3-1, with victories over the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks and a loss to the New York Giants. In the other 12 regular-season games, the team was 6-6.

Although Elewonibi appeared to have problems with Miami linebacker Marco Coleman at times, Casserly said quarterback Mark Rypien had to take responsibility for Coleman's sack at the Miami 6-yard line on the first drive. It was a timing pattern and Rypien was supposed to throw the ball away if it didn't develop.

At the left tackle spot, Elewonibi will face some of the best pass rushers in the league, including Charles Haley of the Dallas Cowboys in the opener.

"He's not Jim Lachey, we all know that, but this isn't a disaster," Casserly said. "What people take for granted around here is that Mo and Jake [Joe Jacoby] would start for most teams. We'll be in good shape if he [Elewonibi] doesn't get hurt."

NOTES: The Redskins resume practice today after being off for two days and will close camp Thursday or Friday. . . . Petitbon said the veterans will play more in the next exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. He said he hopes rookie CB Tom Carter, the top draft pick, will make his first appearance in that game.

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