Being No. 2 is the best thing that could have happened to defensive end Mat Mendenhall, the Redskins' second-round draft selection.
While first-round pick Art Monk has been showered with media and public attention in this training camp, Mendenhall has been left alone to deal with his troubles.
Mendenhall knows it and so do the Redskins: He is not playing as well as either they or he had hoped he would. If he were in the spotlight, his every move carefully scrutinized, his life would be rougher than it already is.
And as it is, things aren't all that pleasant from day to day for Mendenhall, a shy but friendly fellow who now knows firsthand about the difficult transition from college to pro football.
"I've got a long, long way to go," he said. "I'm making progress but it's hard for me to imagine a rookie stepping in and right away beating someone out who has been here 15 years.
"The Redskins realize the potential is there, they just have to be patient.
But it's been tough, trying to live up to what you know you can do and not being able to do it day after day."
Mendenhall is a strapping man, 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. But his stamina has been inadequate and his leg strength is far below what it needs to be. He tires quickly and has had consistent problems with rushing the passer. b
The physical difficulties stem from the ruptured appendix Mendenhall suffered a year ago. He talks reluctantly about the illness, saying it sounds "like I'm using it as an excuse." But after falling to 215 pounds following two operations -- which doctors told him saved his life -- Mendenhall admits, "I was worthless physically."
He and his club thought he might be able to regain his full strength by the start of camp (he played at Birgham Young last season but was in run-down condition). So far, that has not been the case. Instead, he probably is at least a year away from recovering fully.
"He's got to be a little disappointing," said Doc Urich, defensive coordinator. "But it's a combination of things: two-a-days, not having that adequate leg strength and the fact he did not have a real senior year. He also got married just before camp.
"He isn't playing like we want him to. We'd like to have him jump out at us more. But we aren't at a point where we are giving up on him. He has the ability. We just have to give him time to develop it."
In this, a most competitive training camp, it is sometimes easy to forget that the Redskins said they were drafting Mendenhall for the future. "It's going to take time for him to come around," Bobby Beathard, general manager, said the day of the draft.
"I hope people remember that," Mendenhall said today. "I'm trying to. Doc tells me not to get discouraged but that's hard. Some days, when you have a day of pass rush and you do just awful, you look at yourself and think, 'You are supposed to be good. Why aren't you showing it?'
It's entered my mind that they might give up on me and cut me. I'm not guaranteed anything. If I haven't come in here and blown people away, then they might have second thoughts. But they don't let me know how they are thinking."
What the Redskins are thinking, according to Coach Jack Pardee, is that "we'd be foolish not to be patient with Mat. He's shown me enough to convince me he can play. He's a talent. It just will be a little longer for him than we had hoped for.
"He was a sick man. His endurance is not all that it needs to be, but you can never measure what an illness takes out of you until you try to come back. He gets tired very quickly. I think he can play for us against the run now, but it probably would be better if we didn't get in a position where he had to play all the time. When our order players retire, we want Mat ready to step in."
So, barring a complete collapse in preseason games, Mendenhall will be given the extra year he wants -- and needs -- to learn from veterans like Coy Bacon and Diron Talbert while working in the weight room to add much-needed strength.
But these assurances don't reduce a rookie's training camp anxieties.
"This is different than anything I've experienced," Mendenhall said. "The hardest part has been the mental aspect. It just wears you out. You have to go out twice a day right in the heat of the day and force yourself to play as well as you can.
"And everyone here is good. It's not like college, where most of the guys you go against are not pro material. No one here is a slouch. They are the best I've ever played against. I realized right away that I have a lot to learn and that hasn't changed."
Mendenhall says there have been days when "I've woken up and my legs are gone, they are like lead weights, and you drag yourself to breakfast and then you have to be ready to play in an hour but your body just won't wake up. I just couldn't get the adrenaline going.
"Wehn I came in here, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I had never lifted weights until the past year and my weight was the highest it's been. But things just fell apart once two-a-days caught up with me."
When Mendenhall played at 225 pounds, he said he could "fly around like a bird." Now, at 250, he is trying "to get better coordination between my feet and hands. I have to learn to move my weight and get quicker for a longer period of time."
Until the quickness reappears, and until he builds up his legs while adding probably another 10 pounds or so, Mendenhall will be more effective stopping the run than rushing the passer. But Beathard first became interested in Mendenhall because of his potential as a pass rusher.
"I'm convinced he still has the quickness to be a good pass rusher," Beathard said. "I'm not disappointed in what I see from him. I knew it would take time, but that's one reason we could get him in the second round. He wasn't ready immediately. Next year, there will be a big difference in him."
Says Mendenhall, "Coy shows me what he does to get loose when he's rushing, but it's not that easy to do. It doesn't feel the same to me. But I'm giving it all I've got. I'm just glad I haven't had much press. I'm not used to publicity. It's been easier without it. People just have to give me time. I will help the club, but I can't get impatient with myself either."
Life should become easier once camp ends and his wife, whom he married June 21, moves from Utah to join him in Virginia.
"We've been going together for seven years," he said, "and we decided that if we were going to get married, we had to do it before camp. I had 10 days with her.
"That adds to the pressure and the problems here. I'd like to be with her and I miss her.But I guess both of us certainly are learning what it's like to be in pro football."