Receiving his due Frank Wycheck: The former Maryland player has developed into one of the top tight ends in the NFL despite the sting of being waived early in his pro career.

December 03, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When Norv Turner was named coach of the Washington Redskins in 1994, he quickly started sweeping out many of the players left from the Joe Gibbs regime.

One of the victims was Frank Wycheck, the former University of Maryland tight end who had fit into Gibbs' system as an H-back.

"I just didn't think I was getting a fair shake up there. He [Turner] wanted to get rid of all the old guys and I don't think it was right. They brought in all those guys from Dallas and it sort of backfired on him," Wycheck said.

Wycheck wasn't exactly an old guy when he was waived in training camp in 1995. At 23, he feared his career might be over.

"For a 24-hour period, I thought I was done playing football," he said.

It turned out that the move jump-started his career.

While Turner has failed to turn the Redskins into a winner and may not survive the off-season, Wycheck has become a standout player for the Tennessee Oilers.

He was claimed off waivers by the then-Houston Oilers the day after Washington released him. He has become one of Steve McNair's favorite targets and signed a six-year, $15 million contract in September.

"I went from the outhouse to the penthouse so to speak," Wycheck said. "I'll never forget that feeling of being released from the team and not being wanted. That just makes you a better player. Who ever thought a guy who got released would sign a contract like that? I'm just fortunate to be in that position."

He set the Oilers' single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 748 last year and may break it this year.

"I've learned from being in a bad situation with Norv and the Redskins. I'm a little more hungry. I decided I wasn't going to let that happen again," he said.

Wycheck, who's likely to play a key role when the Oilers play host to the Ravens on Sunday, has caught 46 passes for 549 yards.

If New England's Ben Coates and Denver's Shannon Sharpe weren't almost automatic selections, he'd be a contender for the Pro Bowl. Sharpe has only three more catches than Wycheck.

Wycheck doesn't worry about individual honors, though.

"Two guys [Coates and Sharpe] are heads and shoulders above the rest. I'm a team player. I don't care about personal accolades and rewards. I can be one of those top-echelon tight ends in the league. I'm working to achieve that goal," he said.

It turned out he was in the right place at the right time with the Oilers, a team that was ditching the run-and-shoot when he arrived and needed a tight end.

It was a contrast to what happened at Maryland, where he left a year early because former coach Mark Duffner arrived and was installing the run-and-shoot, which doesn't use a tight end.

The Oilers now use two tight ends, with Wycheck and Jackie Harris switching between the tight end and H-back roles.

Describing his game, Wycheck said, "I just do my same old thing, getting open, making some plays, converting third downs. That's been my bag my whole career."

Coach Jeff Fisher said he hasn't been surprised by Wycheck.

"We had a need for a player like Frank in that position. He's very consistent, and he puts forth great effort," Fisher said. "He's not the most gifted blocker, but Steve's very comfortable with him. They trust one another, they're on the same page and they find each other in key situations."

But Wycheck, who caught two passes for 43 yards in the Oilers' 12-8 win over the Ravens in October, knows the Oilers revolve around Eddie George's running.

"Our bread and butter is getting Eddie going and then it opens up our passing game," he said.

Despite Wycheck's personal success, it has been a frustrating year for the Oilers. They were 6-4 after sweeping Pittsburgh and then lost their last two games, to the New York Jets and Seattle.

"If we're going to be playing in January, it goes through Baltimore," he said. "It's going to be a dogfight. It's simple right now. We've got to win four out of four."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Oilers

Site: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.

When: Sunday, 4: 15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Oilers by 6

Oilers at a glance

Last game: Lost to Seahawks, 20-18, on Sunday.

Last meeting with Ravens: Won, 12-8, at Ravens stadium on Oct. 11.

Who's hot: RB Eddie George and QB Steve McNair continue to make big plays. Sunday, McNair was 18-for-34 for 199 yards and George recovered from a minor third-quarter injury to gain 76 yards on 19 carries. George (1,101 yards) trails only Denver's Terrell Davis for the AFC rushing lead.

Who's not: The Oilers' defense continues to sink, dropping into a tie for 21st in the NFL. The team's sack leader, Eddie Robinson, has only 2 1/2 in 12 games. Cornerbacks Darryll Lewis and Denard Walker have made only two interceptions.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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