The Redskins would like to find ways to increase playing time for Mike Nelms next season, including a possible switch to offense, where he could become a wingback.
"It's something we will think about in the off-season, no doubt about that," Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. "We haven't decided anything, we've only thrown it (wingback) out as a possibility. But we are serious about it.
"I've said it takes 10 all-pros to get you to the Super Bowl. He certainly would be one of our all-pros and you want to get those people out on the field as much as possible, whether it's on offense or defense.
"But we don't want to do anything that would hinder his special team performance. That's where he is so valuable to us now and that would be our No. 1 consideration. If we could do something that would give him more time, yet still let him do his return duties well, it would be something we'd have to consider. It's a major consideration."
Nelms, a Pro Bowl kick returner, currently carries a full special teams load. He also has been playing in the Redskin nickel defense as an extra defensive back while Lemar Parrish has been out with a sore knee.
The Redskins would prefer to have him remain as a defensive back, where he has played since his freshman year in college. But strong safety Tony Peters and free safety Mark Murphy both are young and just starting to mature and it has been difficult for him to beat out either man.
He is quicker than Murphy, but Murphy is second on the team in tackles and calls the defensive signals. And Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon thinks enough of Peters that he benched veteran Ken Houston last year so Peters could have a starting position.
"Mike has talent, no question about it," Petitbon said. "But he is trying to break into a veteran secondary and that isn't easy. He's improved this year and I think he'd profit by playing for longer periods of time, instead of popping in and out.
"The other thing is, where is he most important to us, as a kick returner or a starter? Right now, he's a major part of our team as a return man and maybe starting would hurt that. In the one game he played a lot this year, against New England after Tony was hurt, he wound up hurting his shoulder."
The Redskins feel that Nelms has too much athletic ability to be confined to kick returns, especially since the overall roster is deficient in big-play athletes.
"We have only so many players who give us a spark, and Mike is one of them," Gibbs said. "He has that ability to make things happen. Even the little bit he's played this year on defense, you can see him around the ball. He just has the strength and talent to do things most other players can't. You like to give him as much chance as possible to produce."
Gibbs doesn't think it would be feasible for Nelms to play running back. "Returning punts and carrying the ball in the backfield is an entirely different thing," he said.
Wide receiver is a possibility, although Gibbs isn't sure Nelms "has the real breakaway speed for that spot. It would be something we'd have to find out.
"He's got the ability for a wingback. He's a tough guy, an explosive guy with great hands. He can block, too, and he can catch. You'd like to see what he would do if you could get him the ball in the middle of the field and let him go one on one with people."
The Redskins currently use either a tight end or someone like Terry Metcalf as a wingback in their two-tight-end offense. The wingback normally goes in motion and runs patterns designed for a halfback coming out of the backfield.
Nelms said yesterday that Dan Henning, the assistant head coach, twice had mentioned the possibility of moving to offense as a receiver. Nelms said he was open to the idea.
"I like running with the ball," he said, "whether it be on an interception, a handoff or a pass reception. So it sounded good to me. He said they would consider experimenting with me in training camp.
"I think I could do more than I am, I think I could play a bigger role. But I'm also happy with my present duties. I've learned that special teams is a job in itself and not a temporary stop. Last year, I was frustrated because it was the first time I hadn't been a starter in my career. I'm not anymore. I'm young and I've only been in the NFL two seasons. I can wait."
Nelms was a wingback in high school, then a cornerback at Baylor and in the Canadian Football League, where he intercepted 19 passes in three seasons. He said that in both college and the CFL he was given a few running plays, only to see them withdrawn quickly.
"I would think that if I went to offense, my best chance would be wide receiver," he said. "I'm not extremely fast (4.6 seconds for 40 yards) but I get open and no one has caught me from behind on returns yet. Wingback is intriguing. It would give me a chance to do a lot of things.
"But I think I'm improved as a defensive back this year. I feel much more comfortable back there. You have to be quicker to play defensive back here than in Canada. I've had to rely more on positioning and by being a little more physical.
"No matter what happens, I'm not going to make demands or scream and holler. I've mellowed. I'm a day-to-day man. What happens will happen."
But Nelms also is aware that Roy Green of St. Louis has shown this season it is possible to play on offense and defense and still be effective.
"We're still going through an evaluation process of all our athletes," Gibbs said. "That's what happens with a new staff. We're determined to get our best players out there, in the best spots, including Mike Nelms."
Parrish went through a full workout yesterday and will play against Philadelphia Sunday . . . Gibbs, noticing a letdown this week in his players' spirits, treated them to beer and pizza after practice.