Pinkston could face last chance with 'Skins

Posted: August 24, 2007

ASHBURN, Va. - Preseason games once held little significance to Todd Pinkston. Like most veterans at the top of the depth chart, his primary goal was to get through them without breaking, tearing or spraining anything.

But that was then, when he was a starting wide receiver for the Eagles, and this is now, when he is just another face in the crowd trying to win a spot on the Washington Redskins' roster.

Now, the Redskins' game against the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night at FedEx Field means everything to Pinkston. It could be his ticket back to the NFL or it could be his ticket back to the unemployment line.

If he plays well against the Ravens, if he "flashes," Pinkston might reduce the long odds of him making the team. If he doesn't, he could be released as soon as Tuesday, when NFL teams must trim their rosters to 75 players.

"I'm approaching this like I'm a rookie again," Pinkston, 30, said earlier this week. "I'm just trying to hone in and get comfortable with the offense and display my talents. Hopefully, I'll convince them that I can help them."

Pinkston doesn't have much time to do that. He signed with the Redskins just a week-and-a-half ago and is struggling to familiarize himself with a complicated offense that has a playbook thicker than the Old Testament version of the Bible. He didn't have enough of a grasp of it to play in last week's game against the Giants, which means he needs to show the coaching staff something tomorrow against the Ravens.

"I was hoping to get signed by somebody earlier, so that I'd have an opportunity to come in and learn the offense," Pinkston said. "But teams were reluctant to take a chance signing somebody with my type of injury.

"The Redskins were the only team that was willing to give me a chance to get back in [to the league]. I'm just trying to show them I'm 100 percent and go out and make the best of this opportunity."

Pinkston was a four-year starter for the Eagles, catching 184 passes in 78 games. He averaged an NFC-high 18.8 yards per catch in 2004 when opposing defenses had to roll their coverages toward Terrell Owens.

But the rake-thin, 180-pound wideout seemed to lose his nerve that season. On three different occasions - against the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants - he pulled up on routes or took his eye off the ball when a defender closed in on him.

Later that season, he sat out the second half of the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with cramps, even though the temperature in Jacksonville that day never got above 65 degrees. The fact that Owens played in that game just 7 weeks after having surgery to repair a broken leg and ankle, and managed to catch nine passes for 122 yards, only made Pinkston's absence in the final two quarters look worse.

The next summer, just a week into training camp, Pinkston tore the Achilles' tendon in his right foot and missed the entire season.

He tried to come back last summer, but experienced soreness and swelling in both of his Achilles' and only was able to practice a handful of times. Unable to count on him, the Eagles traded for Donté Stallworth and showed Pinkston the door.

The Minnesota Vikings and their new head coach, former Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, signed Pinkston. But when it became obvious that he was nowhere close to being ready to play at an effective level, they also released him.

"I tried to fight through it," Pinkston said. "But you can only do so much. I went out and tried to give 100 percent. But if you can't do it, you can't do it. I found that out the hard way.

"Coach Childress gave me an opportunity after the Eagles released me, and I appreciate that. I was with him 6 years in Philly and he knew what type of player I was. But I just couldn't do what I wanted to do."

Pinkston said his Achilles' finally is fine now. Said it took until late April or early May before he was able to run and cut without any pain.

"It was frustrating," he said. "I just tried to finish my rehab and get back to 100 percent instead of just 50 or 60 percent."

After he got released by the Eagles and Vikings, he talked to other players who tore their Achilles' tendon, including current Eagles linebacker Takeo Spikes, who blew his out less than 2 months after Pinkston. Found solace in the fact that his slow recovery wasn't unusual.

"It's a freak injury," Pinkston said. "It's unfortunate that it happened to me. I never knew how to approach it. It takes a long time to recover from it."

The recovery finally is complete, but it might be too late to matter. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said the team signed Pinkston because he is "somebody that could add to the football team."

He is one of 10 wideouts on the Redskins' roster. Gibbs likely will keep five. Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd and James Thrash appear to have four of those spots locked up, though Gibbs and offensive chief Al Saunders both are tiring of the overpaid, underachieving Lloyd, who caught just 23 passes, none for touchdowns, last season.

Unless Gibbs pulls the plug on Lloyd, that leaves just one wide receiver spot open. And the Redskins' coach is more likely to keep a younger player who can earn his keep on special teams than Pinkston.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Pinkston said. "All I know is I can't give up. Washington has given me a chance. People know I'm a hard worker. If, God forbid, nothing happens here, I'll fight through it and hope somebody else will give me an opportunity." *

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