With Mayhew's return, Redskins turn corner DB may have fight to hold starting job


CARLISLE, Pa. -- Cornerback Martin Mayhew, who ended a one-day holdout yesterday, was greeted warmly by his roommate, A.J. Johnson.

"Thank goodness. It's about time," Johnson said he told Mayhew. "I was happy [Mayhew is back]."

Mayhew's return bumped Johnson from a starting cornerback slot to nickel back in the Washington Redskins defense, but apparently that didn't change Johnson's feelings.

"There's no animosity. We get along real well," Johnson said.

Johnson, who missed the first 12 games last year recovering from knee surgery, wants Mayhew's starting cornerback position but wants to win it through competition, not through the incumbent's absence.

"If I'm going to get the job, I don't want to win it by default," Johnson said.

That Johnson was ready to step into the cornerback job probably was a factor in Mayhew's decision to accept a two-year deal despite not getting one in the $400,000-a-year range. He took the Redskins' offer of about $300,000 the first year and $350,000 the second year along with a good incentive package.

Mayhew knew that a long holdout could hurt his career, and he understood that, under the present system of only limited free agency, players don't have many options.

"It's [lack of free agency] definitely not very good for the athlete. No doubt about that. But what can you do about it? That's the way it's set up right now. Until the union wins some things in court, that's the way it's going to be. We don't have any leverage," Mayhew said.

The coaching staff was happy to see Mayhew back because he was the missing piece of the puzzle in their secondary.

With Darrell Green, the fastest man in the NFL, on one corner and with Mayhew and Johnson fighting for the other corner, the Redskins seem solid at those positions.

Alvin Walton is a mainstay at strong safety, and Brad Edwards inherits the job vacated by free safety Todd Bowles, who left for the San Francisco 49ers as a Plan B free agent. Terry Hoage, a Plan B free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles, is expected to push Edwards.

"I'm very impressed," said secondary coach Emmitt Thomas. "I'm very happy with the guys we got. I think if we stay healthy and we have a pass rush, I think we'll be pretty good."

Thomas also praised three of the backups, Alvoid Mays, Sydney Johnson and Clarence Vaughn.

Thomas said Mayhew will retain his starting job at the outset.

"We believe in letting a guy play his way out of it," Thomas said.

Johnson, who's faster than Mayhew and has seemingly made a complete recovery from knee surgery, will push him. When Johnson underwent surgery June 5, 1990, he was supposed to be out a year.

Instead, Johnson made it back in five months.

Coach Joe Gibbs, who had expressed concern that Mayhew was rushing back too soon, said "getting him back definitely solidified things for us. His surgery really shook us up."

Meanwhile, Mayhew struggled at the start of the season, notably in the second game of the season, when John Taylor of the 49ers caught eight passes for 160 yards against him.

"I definitely think the second half of the year was a lot better for me. I want to pick up where I left off," Mayhew said.

In the playoffs against San Francisco, he held Taylor to two catches for 38 yards.

Mayhew had a busy off-season, visiting Senegal under the auspices of Africare. He is attempting to collect $15,000 from his teammates to build a well for irrigation and a dormitory for orphans.

"It was a big shock for me," he said of what he saw on the visit. "We have a lot of things we take for granted."

NOTES: DL Darryl Grant is expected to miss 2 to 4 weeks with a dislocated right calf muscle. . . . With QB Mark Rypien holding out, Stan Humphries figures to get a major test in the 2 sessions today against the Steelers. The evening scrimmage at Carlisle High School will be televised live on Channel 5 at 8. . . .

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