Redskins face running debate Brooks gets nod, to Mitchell's dismay PRO FOOTBALL

September 30, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- Reggie Brooks can understand Brian Mitchell's frustration.

Brooks won the job as starting running back for the Washington Redskins with his 154-yard breakthrough against the Philadelphia Eagles a week ago.

That meant a demotion for Mitchell, who had started the first three games and was trying to find a niche for himself as a running back instead of a kick returner.

Mitchell declined to comment on the move until yesterday when he said, "Of course, I feel [it's] unfair. Some of the things, I feel in my mind, I can't say. If I said it, it'd be bad for me and it'd be bad for everybody, so I just keep a lot of stuff to myself."

He added: "I feel bad because they moved me out and I didn't do anything wrong. I was producing. I've been known to make you change your mind. Before the end of the year, I'll be back in there."

Brooks, who waited four years to start at Notre Dame, said he can empathize with Mitchell.

"You feel down that something like that happens," Brooks said. "But this is a job. You've got to approach it in that manner. It's a job we're both competing for. It's something we can both handle. He can play it as well as I can. When he was starting, I never looked at as he's starting, I'm this, I'm that. I just looked at it as whenever I get the opportunity to play, I'm going to perform," Brooks said.

He also said he won't let the situation change his relationship with Mitchell.

"He's a good friend of mine," Brooks said. "We hang out together all the time. He's by far one of the most valuable players on the team. His value in my opinion outweighs mine because special teams is a valued part of his game and when he does well, it gives a lift to offense and defense," Brooks said.

Mitchell hinted that if he doesn't regain his starting job, he would have to "make a decision," a suggestion he could try to leave the team as a free agent.

Coach Richie Petitbon, meanwhile, brushed off Mitchell's comments. "It's really not that big a deal," Petitbon said. "All the guys are going to carry the football. Who starts doesn't make any difference. I might start. I think the kid deserves a chance to start."

But Petitbon said he can understand Mitchell's reaction.

"I think something would be wrong with somebody who's not going to start if they would accept that gracefully. I just don't think you do that," he said.

Brooks went through some tough times at Notre Dame when he was playing behind, among others, Ricky Watters, who's now with the San Francisco 49ers. He was even switched to cornerback in his sophomore year, but he said he has no regrets about the decision to go to Notre Dame.

"You can say this or that and second-guess yourself a lot," he said. "You can say if I'd gone to Oklahoma State, I would have been the featured back four years and had a better shot at the Heisman Trophy. But I made the decision to go to Notre Dame and I'm proud of that decision. It turned out well. I handled it well."

When he finally got a chance to start last year, he rushed for 1,343 yards and was selected by the Redskins on the second round.

Now he's only the third rookie in the Joe Gibbs-Petitbon era to start at running back in a regular-season game (Keith Griffin and Jamie Morris were the others) and the first to do it before the 11th week.

Although Brooks said he doesn't emulate any players, he likes to model himself after Barry Sanders, the Detroit Lions running back. He met Sanders on a recruiting trip to Oklahoma State.

"I'm not in his league, but I try to pattern myself after him in the way he runs and how he carries himself. I watch what he does and since we have similar physiques, I try to apply those techniques to my running style," he said.

But it was Sanders' off-the-field demeanor that impressed Brooks most.

"He's really a humble, soft-spoken person," Brooks said.

So is Brooks when he talks about his role with the Redskins.

"They don't put that type of pressure on you here [to carry the club]. It's not you. It's not him. It's not us. It's not an individual type thing. It's a team thing. No matter how well I do, I can't stand out above the team. I can't place myself ahead of the team. This is the most team-oriented sport in the world," he said.

NOTES: Rookie DL Sterling Palmer was arrested on a driving under the influence charge early Tuesday morning in Ashburn and will be arraigned tomorrow. He refused to take a blood or Breathalyzer test. He declined to comment and Petitbon said it may turn out to be a "misunderstanding.". . . . QB Mark Rypien said he hopes to be on the field tomorrow and would like to play a week from Sunday against the New York Giants. He conceded that if Cary Conklin plays well, the Redskins could stick with him. . . . DE Charles Mann didn't practice on his sore knee, but says he'll play Monday night.

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