Redskins wide receivers are double trouble for foes

Westbrook, Connell pose matchup problems

July 27, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins passing coordinator and wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie figures he has all 12 opposing teams on the schedule caught in a dilemma.

Sort of a one-or-the-other, either-or outlook on how to defend against receivers Albert Connell and Michael Westbrook.

"I think that is the one thing we like about the offensive situation that we're in," Robiskie said. "We have two guys that are equal. We have two guys that either one of them can go and get 79, 80 [catches] and the other [can] catch 74 or 75 because people can't key on one. If they key on Mike, Albert's game goes up. If they start keying on Albert, Mike's game goes up.

"If they press and role to Mike's side because they are afraid of Mike, and they are off Albert all day, then we are going to throw to Albert all day."

Multiple receiving threats. It is what helped the St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl last year with Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim, all of whom return.

The NFC's version may now rest in Washington. Connell is the burner and Westbrook is the all-around receiver. Westbrook is big (6 feet 3, 220 pounds), strong, can catch and has good speed.

All that before last year's breakout season added up to a fairly undistinguished career for Westbrook, while Connell was non-existent on the radar of quality NFL receivers.

This is not the case anymore for either receiver after both put up 1,000-yard seasons last year, forming what was one of the league's most dynamic duos - at least for a season.

Few would have predicted such seasons for the two this time last year, especially Connell. Westbrook, the No. 4 pick in the 1995 draft, had the potential all along. But myriad injuries forced him to miss at least three games in each of his first four seasons.

Leslie Shepherd's departure allowed for Connell's rise into the starting lineup. He became one of the league's surprise stories, going for 137 yards and a touchdown in the 1999 season opener against Dallas.

Connell finished last season with 62 catches for 1,132 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I know I have to prepare a little bit more these days because I've earned that respect," Connell said. "These guys are game-planning for me as well as Mike. Guys are going to bring safeties over the top, double team. That just makes me feel good that I've earned that respect. Last year, at the beginning of the year, I didn't have that respect at all. Nobody knew who I was. Coming in this year, it is going to be a whole different story."

He and Westbrook both said the combination of working against Deion Sanders, Darrell Green and Champ Bailey in practice is making them better receivers.

For Westbrook, Sanders especially has been helpful. Westbrook said Sanders spotted something with the positioning of his arms that would always tip what route he was going to run.

A tidbit like that might be what Westbrook needs to accomplish one of his goals this season - improve on his 65 catches, 1,191 yards and nine touchdown catches from last season. The 18.3 yards-per-catch average led the league.

"You always want to capitalize on the things you've done," Westbrook said. "I want to have a better year than I did last year. Hopefully, I will."

NOTES: Sanders left practice early after getting a muscle spasm in his back while breaking up a Brad Johnson pass intended for Connell. It is not believed to be serious and he is listed as day-to-day. ... Redskins contract negotiator Joe Mendes resigned yesterday. Mendes had been responsible for negotiating contracts for first-round picks Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington. ... Defensive end Nolan Harrison will be out three weeks after straining the medial collateral ligament in his knee. ... Kicker Brett Conway strained his right quadriceps muscle and is listed as day-to-day. ... Tomorrow's scrimmage with the Ravens at FedEx Field is a sellout. The upper deck will be closed, and 45,000 fans are expected. ... Running back Stephen Davis participated in contact drills for the first time, showing no signs of a high ankle sprain that forced him out of the last two regular season games. ... Former Ravens linebacker Tyrus McCloud ended practice by intercepting Jeff George.

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