As Mitchell shoulders greater load, Redskins put up tougher fight Back's five-week surge helps offense get untracked

November 22, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Brian Mitchell stood in the locker room at Redskin Park five weeks ago and gave his annual "I want the ball more" speech.

Mitchell seemed to be telling coach Norv Turner the Redskins would be a lot better than 0-5 if they put the ball in his hands more often.

The fiery veteran's speech is always popular with the media but this time it also must have struck a chord with Turner and his staff.

Mitchell is getting the ball a lot more often, and he is backing up his words with action and yardage.

The nine-year player has virtually carried Washington's offense at times during the past five weeks and is leading the team in receptions (32) and is third in rushing (154 yards).

Not bad for a third-down running back who had supposedly lost a step.

"I'll get out of the game if I lose a step," said Mitchell, who seeks to continue his hot streak at 1 p.m. today against the Arizona Cardinals (5-5) at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.

Washington (2-8) could easily be 4-1 over the past five games instead of 2-3.

It took a 47-yard field goal by Joe Nedney with two seconds left for the Cardinals to beat the Redskins, 29-27, two weeks ago.

Then they had numerous opportunities to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles last month before losing, 17-12.

Before his speech, Mitchell had two rushes for 30 yards and 12 receptions for 94 yards in five games.

The man who doubles as one of the most productive return specialists in the history of the NFL was something of a forgotten runner in the first five games.

Since he spoke out, Mitchell has carried 18 times for 119 yards and one touchdown, and caught 20 passes for 158 yards.

"When you ask for the ball and get it, you better do something with it," said Mitchell.

"I've been asking for the ball for nine years. I want it on every play but I know that's not possible. If you look at my whole career, when I've had opportunities to touch the football, I've had good numbers. When I don't touch the football as much, my numbers may not be as big but there are things that people miss. They miss the fact I might go out and make a tackle on the punt team or throw a crucial block."

Mitchell's resurgence as a running back the last five games has also spilled over to his return duties in a big way.

The 5-foot-10, 221-pound product of Southwest Louisiana has returned 14 kickoffs for 344 yards and 21 punts for 225 yards.

Those numbers far exceed his stats for the first five games -- three punt returns for 34 yards and 12 kickoff returns for 219.

In most return categories, Mitchell trails only Mel Gray in the NFL record books.

But when asked what he considers himself as a player, Mitchell said, "I just tell people I'm a football player."

Mitchell said he plays every game "for my dad and my brother. People ask me who my hero is, I say it's my dad [Blanche], who died of a heart attack in 1991."

Mitchell said he also has special memories of his brother, Michael Brian, who died in 1990.

ARIZONA (5-5) AT WASHINGTON (2-8)

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

Line: Redskins by 1 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Cardinals 4-6; Redskins 3-7.

Outlook: To beat the Cardinals, build a big halftime lead. In the past three games, QB Jake Plummer and the offense might as well have spent the first half in the locker room for all the good they've done, but in the second half, Plummer has completed 44 of 66 passes for 606 yards with four TDs and no interceptions. The Redskins may be feeling chipper, given the fact that the Cardinals barely beat them (a field goal with two seconds left) in Arizona, and that they are coming off a victory -- but remember, it was against the Eagles. Does that count?

Notable: Redskins CB Darrell Green has nine career interceptions against the Cardinals.

Injuries:

CARDINALS: Out: T Anthony Clement (back); G Matt Joyce (hand); DT Eric Swann (knee). Questionable: LB Mark Maddox (knee). Probable: CB J.B. Brown (hamstring); C Aaron Graham (knee); CB Tom Knight (hamstring); LB Tony McCombs (toe); TE Johnny McWilliams (shoulder); WR Eric Metcalf (leg).

REDSKINS: Out: S Jesse Campbell (knee); DT Dana Stubblefield (knee); WR Chris Thomas (hamstring). Doubtful: RB Terry Allen (ankle); DT Marc Boutte (ankle). Probable: CB Darrell Green (knee); LB Ken Harvey (knee); G Tre Johnson (knee); G Joe Patton (hamstring); T Shar Pourdanesh (groin).

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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