The Washington Redskins have had plenty of participants in their offensive exploits this season. But a few players have been forced to wait for their opportunities, and the Redskins' early-season success has helped them maintain their focus and positive attitude.
The NFL's top-ranked offense has produced 112 points and 1,232 yards in three games. The Redskins have effectively mixed quarterback Brad Johnson's throwing with tailback Stephen Davis's running, and Johnson has involved tight end Stephen Alexander, fullback Larry Centers and wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell in the passing game.
But two of the Redskins' dangerous complementary players, third-down running back Brian Mitchell and number three wide receiver Irving Fryar, have contributed little to the offensive fireworks. And Fryar, the seventh-leading pass catcher in NFL history who was lured out of retirement during training camp, has only four receptions.
They say they remain confident, though, that their time will come.
"I told Irving Fryar as the season goes on and things get tougher, we'll have our roles," Mitchell said. "As long as we're winning, I'm happy."
Said Fryar: "I call myself the secret weapon. We haven't even used the secret weapon yet. But I'm here to win and have fun. . . . Between catching a lot of balls and winning, I'll take winning every time."
The Redskins entered the season wondering whether they would have enough playmakers on offense. Now they have to answer questions about whether they have too many for everyone to stay happy.
"I don't know if we can keep them all individually happy," Johnson said. "What keeps everyone happy is winning. It's not like I'm trying to go to any one guy. . . . I'm trying to go to the guy who's open."
The Redskins can take a 3-1 record into their bye week if they beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Redskins Stadium; winning keeps locker-room griping to a minimum.
"We have some quality skill guys," Centers said. "The ball is being spread around. It's tough on you as a player, but it's good for us. It keeps the pressure off any one guy. It keeps the defense off balance. . . . When you win, it cures a lot of things. If we can continue to win, I don't think there will be a lot of complaints."
Mitchell has led the NFL in total combined net yards four times in the previous five seasons. He and Jim Brown are the only players in league history to lead the NFL in that category more than three times. He tied for the team lead last season with 44 receptions. But he has touched the ball only 10 times on offense this season, with eight carries for 27 yards and two catches.
When the Redskins signed Centers as a free agent during the offseason, outsiders wondered whether the club could mesh the talents of Mitchell and Centers. Each player's strength is his pass-catching ability. In the Redskins' first two games, Mitchell had no catches while Centers had 10. Mitchell had two receptions in Sunday's 27-20 triumph over the New York Jets. Centers had only one catch, a three-yard loss.
Centers and Mitchell say they believe there will be games this season when both get their catches.
"It can still happen," Mitchell said. "With [Connell] and Mike and Stephen Alexander, it has not really been necessary yet. . . . When you're winning games, you can't complain about how many times you're touching the ball. . . . We know we have the talent on offense to beat anybody."
The Redskins believe they have their best depth in years. They have Rodney Peete and Casey Weldon to back up Johnson. They have experienced backups to their starting offensive linemen in Brad Badger, Rod Milstead and Jamie Brown. Skip Hicks lost the starting tailback job to Davis in training camp, but he set a team rookie record with eight rushing touchdowns last season. And the Redskins have Fryar behind Westbrook and Connell.
They signed Fryar, who turned 37 Tuesday, in part because they could not be certain Westbrook and Connell were ready to be consistent, reliable receiving threats. Now those two have 13 catches apiece. Westbrook leads the NFC in receiving yards and Connell is fourth. Fryar, meantime, mostly has been watching. Entering this season, he had played in 225 NFL games and started 200, and he last had played in a game as a reserve in 1992.
"It's tough," he said. "It's a whole different scenario for me. I've been starting for a long time. It's a whole different mind-set. You know when you get into the game, you have to make a play. People see a guy come into the game just on third down and he drops a pass, and they don't understand how tough that is. It's because he's not in the flow of the game. It's totally new for me. [But] I have to be ready."
He has been learning the Redskins' offense on a crash-course basis. And only now, he says, is he on the verge of being comfortable.
"It's real close," said Fryar, who has 788 career catches and is 26 behind Henry Ellard for sixth place on the league's all-time list. "We'll be starting to try to pick up my involvement, definitely by after the break. So far there's been no need, really. Everybody is playing great."
So well, in fact, that the Redskins' offense has been under a national spotlight, and the team's players are talking about carving a niche among the NFL's best clubs this season. But the Redskins say they know all of that can change with one loss.
"A pat on the back and a slap in the face are about six inches apart," Johnson said. "If you start playing bad, it'll come right back at you."
Said Centers: "We think we have a great opportunity to be one of the best teams in the league. But you don't do that with your mouth. We have to go to work."