By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
As David Patten drove back to Virginia from his home in South Carolina last weekend, his cell phone began ringing repeatedly. One friend after another called with news that at first stung. The Redskins were bringing in another wide receiver. Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh's spectacular playmaker, was coming to the Washington Redskins.
Soon after came word of another blockbuster: Brandon Lloyd, the highlight-reel wide receiver from San Francisco, had joined the Redskins in a trade. This couldn't be.
"All my friends were calling me asking me if I was all right," Patten said. "They were asking me if I was cool, how was I doing, if the Redskins were trying to get rid of me, if I was still with the team. I thought they'd be looking at one receiver, but two?"
On Sunday, the day before the Redskins' new wide receivers were introduced, Patten received a phone call from Coach Joe Gibbs, who told him both signings were not a reflection on him, but merely on the team's underproduction at wide receiver last year. Patten said he listened attentively and asked Gibbs a question, one to which the right answer would provide some gasoline for Patten's tank.
"Coach, will you play the best guy?" he asked.
Gibbs told Patten he would, and the result is a player who is not sulking, but rather one who is challenged by a receiving corps that will energize him and motivate him to compete with younger players.
What has transpired over the past few days underscores the aggressive nature of the Redskins' front office, and in the wake of signing Randle El and acquiring Lloyd, Gibbs has had to diplomatically offer some reassurances.
One year ago, it was Patten who stood where his rivals stood Monday, at the podium, introduced as the newest high-priced player on a team seeking a Super Bowl title. It was Patten, and not Randle El, who was fresh off of a Super Bowl win with the Patriots, joining the Redskins.
But today, after a frustrating year in which he did not score a touchdown, caught just 22 passes and, he says, was prematurely placed on injured reserve, Patten now describes himself with a multitude of adjectives. He is the underdog, fighting against younger, possibly more talented players. He is the elder statesman at 31, willing to push this new core of young receivers.
"Who could question that?" Patten said of the acquisitions. "Randle El can do it all. Think of the mismatches we're going to create at the line of scrimmage. And Brandon? In the San Francisco game, he was the only one on their side making plays. He's got the potential to take over the league.
"I'll tell you, if I'm not the starter, then we'll have the strongest receiving corps in the league. Don't tell me what I can't do. I'll give it everything I've got, and if it's not good enough, I can hold up. I can live with that."
Patten has attempted to process where he currently stands with the Redskins organization, and has turned to his faith for guidance. Faith, Patten says, is why he believes he will be able to compete without the anger that might be expected of a person dealing with two new, high-priced talents at his position.
"The intellectual me said, 'Why don't they just release you from your contract?' The emotional me said, 'Have they given up on me? Don't they want me anymore?' Ever since this began, I've been thinking about that," Patten said.
"I could go in the tank. I could say they wronged me. But the spirit overrides the intellectual me. The spirit overrides the emotional me. The spirit talks to me every day, tells me to believe in Him. He tells me every day to follow Him and to trust Him. He tells me that I wasn't even supposed to be here. I went undrafted and yet I'm a 10-year veteran, a six-year starter and three-time Super Bowl winner. That spirit got me here, and I have to keep believing in my abilities. This is a time where you find out what your true character is."
In a flurry, the Redskins have been transformed at wide receiver. During Monday's news conference, the Redskins and their new acquisitions envisioned Santana Moss, Randle El and Lloyd lining up against the league's defenses. They did not mention Patten.
"This is motivation for me," Patten said. "On paper, it looks like I'm the weakest link of this group, but by the end of training camp, we'll see. Ten years ago, I would have been mad. I was so angry then. I would have been mad at the team, at my receivers coach, at everyone. I wouldn't have talked to anyone. I was so convinced that in New York [with the Giants], I deserved to be playing and I wasn't. Today, it's not like that. I have to use this as motivation for me. I'm a fighter. When training camp comes, I'm fighting for the starting job."
Stan Hixon, Washington's wide receivers coach, did not believe the Redskins would be able to upgrade as they have. The Redskins expected to try to improve through the draft at wide receiver. But once it became clear that acquiring both Lloyd and Randle El could become a reality, Hixon began looking at five years' worth of film of the St. Louis Rams.
"Everyone is going to get theirs, and that's my challenge," Hixon said, adding that the Redskins likely will use more sets involving four wide receivers, sometimes without a tight end to get more players involved.
Patten, too, not only is eager to compete but curious to see how this new bevy of talent will jell on the field.
"You have to have buy in. We've got three young dogs, and they'll all be hungry," he said. "I'm the old head of the group. As long as we don't worry about numbers, we should be all right. Everyone's got egos, and that's the challenge. If everyone buys in, why can't we win the championship?"