Mike Sellers shows how Redskins have progressed — off the field

Jason Reid
Columnist September 20, 2011

Much is changing with the Washington Redskins,
and it’s quite a thing to see. Individual agendas no longer trump the group concept. A team-first mind-set has replaced the star-system approach. For the first time
in a long time, the Redskins are
truly about togetherness, and fullback Mike Sellers personifies their new way.

Washington’s longest-tenured player, Sellers has lost the job he had held under three Redskins coaching regimes. His role on offense has been reduced. Even Sellers’s special teams work, once essential to Washington’s overall success, isn’t valued as highly these days. The coaching staff decided others could help more in the season-opening victory over the New York Giants, so Sellers was inactive.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Although Sellers returned to the lineup in Sunday’s victory over Arizona, this sort of thing used to ignite fireworks at the team’s Ashburn training complex. Veterans would voice displeasure — repeatedly — about slights real and imagined, stirring a circus-like environment.

Not now. And definitely not Sellers, who made the opening roster, at least in part, because of management’s concern about Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley’s knee injury.

Coach Mike Shanahan runs a tighter operation than his predecessors. Toeing the company line is as required as a helmet and shoulder pads, and Sellers’s footing on the roster seems shaky. Clearly, Sellers is not in the best position to challenge authority. His refreshing outlook, however, comes across as genuine. Sellers has been great in the locker room, coaches and teammates say. He isn’t doing it for the television cameras.

Having accepted his change in status, Sellers has helped Darrel Young, the second-year fullback who sent him to the bench. As Young’s personal unofficial coach, Sellers has offered the former college linebacker expertise acquired in 11 previous NFL seasons, including 10 with his current employer.

Sellers, who commented extensively on his situation in interviews last week, is setting a positive example of professionalism and selflessness, concepts formerly mocked at the facility, “because on this team, there have been so many individuals in the past few years that have been all about, ‘Me, me, me, me, me.’ There wasn’t a team,” he said.

“It has all been about them. We’ve weeded out those guys. So for me to be selfish and go, ‘Me this and me that,’ that’s not productive for the team. It’s not gonna help us win games. I don’t want to be that cancer that we’ve had here the previous years. I don’t want to be that guy.”

Sellers did not reveal names. He didn’t have to. Many of those on the extensive list were already well known.

They were supposed cornerstone players who preferred to relax while others practiced. They were high-priced free agents foolishly signed despite billboard-sized warning signs.

They were square pegs trying to fill Washington’s round holes. At the core of it, they were just the wrong players — and, more important, the wrong people.

“With all those other situations, there was just so much going on, it was like what we were trying to do [on the field] didn’t matter,” Sellers said. “Here, now, we have a good thing going. I want to be part of it. I’m not gonna mess that up.”

For years, Sellers’s efforts helped others shine. That’s the way it works for fullbacks and special teams players.

The hulking Sellers intimidated defensive backs whether blocking or receiving. On special teams, he was a powerful tone-setter for coordinator Danny Smith. Sellers was good enough to earn a Pro Bowl invitation after the 2008 season and was an alternate last year, “and that tells me, obviously, my game hasn’t declined. But I know this team is going younger. Is it hard? Yeah. Am I dealing with it? Yeah.”

Comcast SportsNet executive Eric Shuster has been part of the process. Sellers counts Shuster among his closest friends, and they have talked often about Sellers’s transition.

“Mike is one of the most loyal people I’ve ever known. There’s nothing he won’t do for people he cares about,” Shuster said. “One of the things that has made it a little easier is that he [Young] is a great guy. Mike knows that. He wants to help him.”

Sellers is 36. He’s not part of Washington’s long-term youth movement, which, judging by its 2-0 start, is going well. Young, 24, could be around a while.

With Sellers still on the team, the situation could have been awkward, Young said, but “the things that he says and the way he helps me, I know there are no hard feelings even though I am playing his position now.

“He’s helping me learn so much from understanding the game better to a composure standpoint. He knows what’s gonna happen and when it’s gonna happen. You want a guy like that by your side. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”

Mentoring has its place. It’s good. But Sellers made the team because Shanahan believes he can still help Washington win football games.

“Mike is exactly the type of guy you want on a football team,” Shanahan said. “He’s what you call a guy that is a winner.”

In a tough spot, Sellers is doing it right. That’s an improvement for the Redskins, and another positive development worth talking about.

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