Redskins' Westbrook on route to nowhere

Receiver is forgotten man in Schottenheimer offense

October 19, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - For public consumption, wide receiver Michael Westbrook has been saying all the right things about the Washington Redskins' struggles, and how it's only a matter of time before the team breaks through to get its first win of the season, perhaps as early as Sunday at home against the Carolina Panthers.

"We're looking for that game that we can win, and then tie two [victories] together," Westbrook said this week at Redskin Park. "We're getting closer. We're becoming a team, and, in my opinion, we're getting better as a team. You wait for that one day when you can win a game and start to turn things around."

But when the conversation turns to Westbrook's personal fortunes in coach Marty Schottenheimer's offensive scheme, which has largely found him ignored with only 15 catches in five games, the tone is measured and decidedly less hopeful.

"This is their offense," Westbrook said. "This is the way they do things, they think, to win games. I'm all for it. I'll just buy into it. I'm not the primary receiver on most plays. I'm here to do my job, to be the second or third receiver. As long as I'm on the field, helping the team, I'm not going to ask for anything else."

It doesn't take long, however, to discover that Westbrook, who caught one pass in Monday's 9-7 loss at Dallas, a 31-yard touchdown reception from Tony Banks, is baffled by his status in the offense.

For instance, when asked about his reaction when Banks' pass - his first touchdown catch of the year - was en route, Westbrook smiled and said, "It was funny. I was like, `Whoa! They threw me the ball!' That was a big surprise to me. I wasn't thinking about catching it a certain way. I could make that catch in my sleep. I was shocked that I saw the ball, and here it comes my way."

Westbrook's problems aren't entirely unique. No one in the Schottenheimer offense is getting a lot of touches, as the Redskins, ranked last in the league in total offense, not surprisingly have the lowest average number of plays per game (61.2) and the worst average time of possession (23:11).

Consequently, running back Stephen Davis, who has averaged 316 carries the past two seasons, is on pace for only 240 this year, and rookie Rod Gardner, Washington's leading receiver, has 16 receptions, just one more than Westbrook, who will be a free agent after this season.

Westbrook, whose reception yards project out to only a 426-yard season, is not only getting few catches, but he also isn't getting routes deep enough to get big yardage to stretch the defense, even as defenses are not double- or triple-teaming him off the line, Westbrook said.

"You don't expect to see those type of numbers from me," he said. "You expect to see a 20-yard average and big, gigantic plays from me."

Westbrook, who missed the last 14 games last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee but made 65 catches for nearly 1,200 yards in 1999, is still respected by defenders.

"He doesn't look like a guy coming off an ACL injury," said cornerback Jason Sehorn of the New York Giants. "They're struggling, let's not kid ourselves, and he may only have 10 or 11 catches, but at the same point, that's not his fault, that he's not getting open. It's more offensive struggles."

Indeed, Schottenheimer, who is more inclined to run than throw the ball, says that two-deep and occasionally three-deep zones are zapping some of Westbrook's opportunities, as well as Banks' struggles to master the offense.

That's all well and good with Westbrook, but he wonders why his number isn't called more often.

"We need the ball longer, obviously, but, in my opinion, if you have the opportunity to throw it to your playmakers, you should do so," Westbrook said. "I don't see the reason that I should have two balls thrown at me in four quarters of football [Monday night]. It's not my job to whine and moan about how many balls are thrown to me. I'm here to do a job. Like I did in the game, I'll just make the most of my opportunities."

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