Washington Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey said today he shares some of the doubts others in the organization have about whether he can be an effective player at age 34.
Harvey said he hopes he can prove the knee injury that ended his 1998 season is healed and he can help the Redskins as a pass-rush specialist. However, he left open the possibility of retiring by the end of training camp if he and Redskins officials don't believe his knee is sound and he can help the team.
"They'll know," Harvey said. "I'll know. As things progress, if it looks like it's not working and it seems like I'm not helping the team, I'm sure they'll make a decision and I'll make a decision. We'll kind of wait and see."
Harvey had been in uniform and on the field every day since training camp opened last week, but until today he basically had been a spectator. After today's practices, he said he did "okay" in the full-speed afternoon practice, when he lined up with the second-string defense as a defensive end.
"He felt good," Coach Norv Turner said. "We'll just add a little bit as we go on."
But Harvey said he had no way of knowing whether his body can handle that. He indicated he plans to determine his playing schedule on a day-to-day basis.
"Depending on how practices go, we'll see," Harvey said. "We'll see if it's just the knee, or see if we have to worry about wear and tear in general. You want to make it through the season without any setbacks, especially if you have a role on the team, whatever that role is. I'm just going to try to go. I'm not sure I'm ready. . . . We'll see what I can do and when I can do it, and then try to add more to it."
Harvey said no precise timetable has been set for him or team officials to decide his future.
It is an unusual situation for Harvey. He says he can't remember the last time he was in a training camp with so much to prove. He had his fourth straight Pro Bowl season for the Redskins in 1997, and there was no reason to suspect he was about to slow down. But he had only two sacks in 1998, and Redskins officials decided Shawn Barber, Derek Smith and Greg Jones will be their starting linebackers this season.
Club officials told Harvey during the offseason they wanted him to retire or accept a financial settlement that would accompany him being waived. But Harvey said he wanted to play one more season, and the Redskins relented. He and the team negotiated a new contract that would pay him a relatively modest base salary of $500,000 this year.
Turner and trainer Bubba Tyer have urged him to take things slowly here. But it's a difficult balancing act, for there are things he must prove and he must be playing regularly to do that. Redskins officials have talked to defensive end Chris Doleman about coming out of retirement, so it's clear they are at least a bit skeptical about Harvey's chances.
"This is new to me," Harvey said. "Every opportunity you get, you just try to make the most of it. Just by myself, I probably would have jumped in and done something crazy. . . . Fortunately I have people that are trying to take care of me. . . . It is hard to try to walk that thin line. You want to seem like you're giving as much effort as everyone else here."
Retirement was a tempting option, Harvey admits. In the end, though, he had to find out if he could help the Redskins reach the playoffs.
"You sit around a little bit and start relaxing and playing with the family," he said. "You've got all this free time and there's no rush, no deadlines. It gets tempting. But in the end, you make a decision and you live with it."
Last season, he started the process of accepting his limitations as an aging player. This season, he and the Redskins hope he can be more productive if he plays less.
"There are a lot of things that in your mind you still can do, but your body can't do," Harvey said of the lessons he learned last season. "You wonder what you can do and what your role is. As things don't go the way you want them to, it gets harder and harder. But last year was last year. This is a new season."