Brian Mitchell isn't worried about the imminent arrival of Desmond Howard.
"I'm not going to change if Desmond is here or not. I'm going to be Brian Mitchell if he's here and I'm going to be Brian Mitchell if he's not," he said after his 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Washington Redskins defeat the Los Angeles Raiders, 27-23, in a preseason game Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
With the return, Mitchell made it clear he plans to hold on to the kick-returning job even if the Heisman Trophy winner signs a $5.9 million, four-year deal in the next day or two.
Leigh Steinberg, Howard's agent, said yesterday the two sides are "very, very close" and the deal could be done "any day now," but general manager Charley Casserly said last night "there's no deal tonight."
One final holdup is that Steinberg plans to come with Howard to Redskin Park for the signing, but he wasn't able to arrange his travel schedule to make it today, which points to a signing tomorrow.
Steinberg appears resigned to the fact that Howard has to accept the Redskins' final offer of an average of $1.475 million a year. Steinberg wanted to match the $1.5 million average that the third player drafted, Sean Gilbert of the Los Angeles Rams, received.
Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is adamant that he won't match Gilbert's average for Howard, the fourth player drafted, even though the Redskins contend it's a better deal than Gilbert's contract because it's for four years -- Gilbert signed for five -- and has a hefty incentive package.
While the Redskins try to wrap up the Howard deal, Mitchell is making sure Washington isn't in need of another kick returner.
One of the Redskins' problems may be trying to mix Mitchell and Howard together once Howard arrives.
"To be totally honest, I don't know if it'll help or hurt because sometimes you get two people back there and it can become a mix-up," said Mitchell. "But if they work real well together, the team is going to be real good."
Mitchell is picking up right where he left off last year when he returned two punts for touchdowns and had a third one called back by a penalty. He said he doesn't feel threatened by the expected arrival of Howard.
"I'm going to go out there and do my job. I can't let the fact that he's out of camp or in camp change me in any way," Mitchell said. "The fact that he won the Heisman Trophy or he didn't win it, it wouldn't make me any different. I'd still go out and do what I have to do."
The Redskins came out of the Raiders game with two players, safety Clarence Vaughn and long snapper John Brandes, probably sidelined for at least two weeks with knee injuries. That means they'll miss the opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Brandes' injury means the Redskins will be in the market for a long snapper because Dave Clark, who was signed last week, dribbled his first one after Brandes got hurt.
"You have to have a guy who can snap," said special teams coach Wayne Sevier. "You can lose a game if you can't snap the ball."
NOTES: Coach Joe Gibbs gave the Redskins today off and he'll have to make the first mandatory cut to 61 players when the team returns to practice tomorrow. . . . Gibbs said he's "not counting" on Mark Adickes, who's sidelined with a back injury and may have to retire. . . . Gibbs got locked out of the new Redskin Park in Ashburn, Va., after the team arrived back early yesterday. Since his car keys were in the complex, he had to take the team bus home because nobody volunteered to drive him. Gibbs' appraisal of the new facility: "I couldn't get in my office, I couldn't get my keys. I didn't have a car to drive. Other than that at 4 in the morning, it was great."