Frustration sidelines top Redskins returner Mitchell avoids Turner despite plummeting stats

October 11, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Just call it the latest misadventure in the trials and tribulations of the 0-5 Washington Redskins.

Longtime team leader and catalyst Brian Mitchell wants to run and catch the football more, but he said he doesn't know how to ask coach Norv Turner.

"I'm so frustrated," Mitchell said last week as the Redskins prepared for today's road game against the 0-5 Philadelphia Eagles. "I'm afraid to go in and say something to him because I might say the wrong thing. It might come across as a Brian Mitchell campaign to get the ball, but it's not. I just think I could better help the team touching the ball than standing on the sideline."

So whatever happened to good old one-on-one communication between a player and a coach?

"I don't know what's going on," said Mitchell, in his ninth season with Washington. "I don't know if I'm in the doghouse or not."

The third-down running back, one of the top return specialists in the history of the NFL, has rushed only three times for 35 yards this season and caught 12 passes for 94 yards.

"I'm not one to sit on the sideline," Mitchell said. "I have quarterback in my blood. I want to touch the ball every play. I've always felt like I'm not getting the ball enough, but this year it seems like I'm seeing the ball a lot less."

The fewest carries for Mitchell over the past five years were the 23 he had last season. The most in that stretch were the 78 he had in Turner's first season as head coach in 1994.

Asked about Mitchell's lack of rushes this season, Turner said, "Over 16 games, Brian usually gets his chances. He's probably a little more frustrated right now because we're not doing a good job on kickoff returns and he's not able to have the impact he's had in the past."

Mitchell, 30, has dropped from a three-time NFL leader in combined yardage from 1994 to 1996 to not being ranked this season among the top 10 NFC kickoff returners and ninth in NFC punt returners. His 8.8 yards per punt return is 2.8 below his career average, and his 19.6 yards a kickoff return is 3.7 below his norm.

"There's all kind of reasons why the return game has fallen off, and it's not because I've lost a step," Mitchell said. "I'm faster than I was the last three or four years. When I think I've lost a step, believe me, I'll retire from the game."

Turner has been saying all season the special teams blocking has been poor.

"When Brian's had a lane, he's done a good job," Turner said. "He's getting a little more than is there. But if you don't give him a chance, it's not going to happen."

Speaking of chances, backup quarterback Gus Frerotte says he believes he will soon get a second chance to prove he should be No. 1.

Frerotte, who was given a quick hook by Turner after throwing two interceptions in a 31-24 season-opening loss to the New York Giants, said if he gets playing time, "I'm going to prove to myself and to the fans that it [benching] wasn't the best thing. I believe I'll have a chance to get back in there. We have a long way to go."

Frerotte was the starter two years ago when the team jumped off to a 7-1 start and finished 9-7. But the Washington fans began to turn on him last season right after he signed a lucrative four-year, $18 million contract.

Washington has scored only 50 points in Trent Green's four starts this season.

But Turner said he will start Green again today.

WASHINGTON (0-5) AT PHILADELPHIA (0-5)

Time: 1: 01 p.m., Ch. 5.

Line: Redskins by 2 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Redskins 0-5; Eagles 2-3.

Outlook: If this game doesn't sum up the horrid NFC East, it can't be done. The Redskins are the NFC's most generous team, having lost the ball 13 times while forcing just two turnovers. The defense has disappeared, too, especially in the red zone, where opponents score a league-high 76.5 percent of the time. Even five TDs in the past two weeks haven't pushed the Eagles out of last place in scoring, with just 52 points in five games. The defense is next-to-last in the NFC against the run, giving up 5.0 yards per attempt, bad news against a tough runner like the Redskins' Terry Allen.

Notable: No NFL team has ever recovered to make the playoffs after an 0-5 start.

Injuries:

REDSKINS: Out: RB Larry Bowie (leg-injured reserve); S Jesse Campbell (knee); LB Antwaune Ponds (knee). Doubtful: G Joe Patton (knee). Probable: RB Terry Allen (shoulder); G Tre' Johnson (shoulder).

EAGLES: Out: RB Corey Walker (thumb). Questionable: CB Bobby Taylor (shoulder). Probable: C Steve Everitt (foot); RB Charlie Garner (ankle); TE Jimmie Johnson (groin); CB Allen Rossum (concussion); RB Duce Staley (toe/ankle); T Tra Thomas (stinger); LB James Willis (rib)

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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