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MTK 07-04-2005 06:10 PM

Walters: Under the Radar
[center][b][u]Under the Radar[/u][/b]
During the past several off-seasons, Redskins fans have grown accustomed to their team splurging on expensive, big-name talent in hopes of finally righting a ship that has been more off course in recent years than a penguin in Ecuador. Each time the first few days of March came up on the calendar, Redskins fans nationwide tuned in attentively to any available media outlet to see on which player an overly lucrative contract had been lavished.

Of course, not all the marquee names that signed on in off-seasons past blew up in Washington’s collective face. Unfortunately, for every Cornelius Griffin and Shawn Springs, there seems to have been dozens of Mark Brunell and Deion Sanders-type players who turned out to be total mistakes. The respite between Joe Gibbs’ first and second season of his coaching comeback has been noticeably more reserved, perhaps in hopes that some sort of twisted reciprocity will result in a better outcome once autumn arrives.

The theme of this off-season has been the mid-level signing that fills a gaping hole on the roster. Players such as David Patten (who fills the need of a number 2 receiver who doesn’t drop every other pass thrown to him) and Casey Rabach were as much a fit with the team on the field as they were “real Redskins” off of it. For a team who has garnered a well-earned reputation for making a bigger splash in free agency than Martin Chase could make at a pool party, the careful planning displayed this off-season was refreshing to say the least.

Even though Patten, Rabach, and the other new Redskins aren’t necessarily household names outside the circle of devoted NFL fans, they’re practically celebrities compared to a few other Redskin acquisitions. These players didn’t get their own press conference after signing their contracts. The same ESPN ticker that lists, in painful detail, the names of every player who so much as had a sacrifice fly in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays game the night before, doesn’t even register the transaction. But their importance to the team this season belies the ho-hum nature with which their acquisition was announced.

The way I see it, there are three such players that were signed this off-season. The first, and perhaps most important, was the mid-March contract reached with former Buffalo Bills safety Pierson Prioleau. Initially brought in for depth and to add stability to the specials teams, Prioleau’s importance to the defensive secondary could dramatically escalate should Sean Taylor become an honorary Baltimore Raven and be convicted on his current felony charges.

Prioleau played for defensive mastermind Gregg Williams while the two were in Buffalo, so a certain level of comfort with Prioleau’s potential could be garnered if for no other reason than Williams voluntarily chose to reunite with his former pupil in D.C. Prioleau and the injury prone Andre Lott figure to battle to back-up, if not replace, Taylor in the starting lineup. At the very least, Prioleau brings with him a willingness and skill to play special teams, which holds an even higher value with a Joe Gibbs staff than most others in the NFL.

Warrick Holdman’s May 11th signing might have just barely made the newswire, but the former Bear and Brown could potentially fill the void caused when Gregg Williams creation Antonio Pierce deserted the Burgundy and Gold for more hopeless pastures with the Giants. Holdman is at best third in line (behind Mike Barrow and Lemar Marshall) to win the middle linebacker job, so the safest bet for Holdman’s productivity lies in depth and in special teams. However if LaVar Arrington’s knee becomes more problematic, having a proven commodity such as Holdman on the roster could prove to be more valuable than a box of Ho-Ho’s at a Jenny Craig meeting.

Of all the moves made by this staff, the Holdman’s signing is one of the most well thought out. The staff pursued Holdman last off-season, eventually losing out to the Cleveland Browns, and ultimately resulting in Mike Barrow becoming a Redskin. Holdman went on to register 110 tackles (56 solo) for Cleveland in 2004, and while similar production for the Redskins in 2005 is unlikely, his potential to perform at such a level will ease the minds of the staff and fans alike when thoughts of the questions at linebacker arise.

The last of the three unsung acquisitions, Artrell Hawkins, became official when the DB signed his contract late last month. Hawkins, who spent the first six seasons of his career dwelling in obscurity in Cincinnati before spending last season in Carolina, will provide a much needed injection of veteran experience to a group of corner backs that has very little once you get past the two starters. Hawkins, like most everyone else Washington signed this off-season, figures to find his place on the special teams, but will more importantly serve to add depth to an unproven lot of reserve corners.

Fresh off of the successful signing of veteran Walt Harris, the announcement that Hawkins has officially come aboard should be met with a reasonable amount of optimism. Hawkins will most likely rise no higher than third on the depth chart, and may only achieve those dizzying heights as a product of the bone bruise that currently has Carlos Rogers out of commission. Hawkins’ presence will, however, assure that if Garnell Wilds or Rufus Brown sees the field, it is because they have earned it, and not because there were no other options.

It is about now that you, as a reader, may wonder where in the mix rented mule Ade Jimoh falls, and my answer is a firm, ‘hopefully nowhere’. Thanks to the new features on [i]Redskins.com[/i], fans and spectators alike have seen that Jimoh is an exceedingly nice person, but fans that have seen his coverage skills would trust him to cover Lennie Friedman split out wide. As a cover corner Jimoh is a fine chess player.

I suppose that honorable mention could be given to the quiet acquisition of wideout Kevin Dyson. Cut by the Chargers last season before seeing the field, Dyson’s past troubles with injuries will be the limiting factor to his success with the Redskins. Whether his story mirrors that of

Ki-Jana Carter, who was situationally productive despite his past health issues, or Santana Dotson, who most have forgotten was ever on the roster, remains to be seen. At best, Dyson is a number two receiver, which is something this team certainly has plenty of, so Dyson’s role this season figures to be one of the more interesting sub-plots that will play out as the season draws near.

Finally, friends and neighbors, on this the birthday of our country, keep close in mind those for whom a fireworks display this evening would not be a festive occasion. The anniversary of American independence is one of a small handful of days when we as Americans are as sensitive to the rights and privileges that we share as we should be every day, so let us all remember those are fighting as we speak to maintain those liberties, as well as those who came before them. So when you’ve had your last hot dog or burger, say a little prayer that next year’s Independence Day celebration will have a few more places set at each military family’s table, and that our men and women are home safely.

Keep checking back in for your Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [email="skins.fan@comcast.net"]skins.fan@comcast.net[/email]

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