ASHBURN, Va. — With a solid training camp, two preseason touchdown catches and just the right amount of feistiness, seventh-round draft pick Marko Mitchell is on the verge of playing his way onto the Washington Redskins roster.
If he knew how to tackle, he'd be a shoo-in.
Mitchell says he hasn't had to tackle anyone since his junior year of high school in Alabama, when a shortage of players forced him to play both ways. He's having to master the skill in a hurry — because a rookie seeking to make an NFL roster as a No. 5 receiver needs to be able to play special teams.
Mitchell got in on one tackle on a kickoff Friday night against the New England Patriots, but he looked out of sorts covering a punt later in the game.
Special teams coach Danny Smith joked that the attempt was so poor that Mitchell "almost didn't get on the bus headed home."
"Thank God that was a preseason situation," Smith said. "We expect him to make that play, and I think he can make that play. I like him. I like his competitiveness. I like his work habits, and he and I will start getting together a lot more to see if we can bring him along a little faster."
If Smith is saying that, then Mitchell is certain to stick around, either on the practice squad or the 53-man roster.
There's room for five receivers among the 53, and Mitchell is closing in on that last spot next to Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. At 6-foot-4, he and Kelly would be the co-tallest of the bunch.
"It's not about how you get in, it's about what you do when you're here," Moss said. "From Day One, he's been showing that he's going to be the guy to make plays. We have a bunch of short guys, and we've been itching to get a tall guy here and there to do something for us."
For a while, the Redskins seemed to have the fifth spot reserved for a veteran. James Thrash would have been the favorite had he not retired. Roydell Williams was signed, but he broke his left pinkie early in camp and was waived. D.J. Hackett was next, but he hasn't made much of an impact.
"They bring in veteran guys," Mitchell said. "To be real, that just made me fight hard to show people. They probably were like, 'I don't know if he can handle it. I want to see if he can step up to the challenge or if he's going to be like a seventh-round rookie and back down.' That's not me."
Mitchell certainly hasn't been a timid rookie. He and cornerback DeAngelo Hall got into the only real scuffle of training camp. He's been given two nicknames by cornerback Fred Smoot: "Lanky Livingston" because he's so lanky, and "Big Fase 100" because Smoot thinks Mitchell has a big face.
Mitchell has embraced the "Lanky Livingston" moniker. He's celebrated both of his touchdowns by making the letter "L" with both hands.
"Don't get me wrong, he stays to himself," Moss said. "But he's not going to be the one that you just pick on or say anything smart to without him saying something back. He's got that kind of swag. He's very sure of himself, and that's a good thing."
Mitchell, who came out of a pass-happy college offense at Nevada, can clinch his spot with a good performance Thursday in the final preseason game against Jacksonville. The regular season roster will be set two days later.
"I haven't surprised myself. To be real, what I've been doing in the games, that's just a little bit of me," Mitchell said. "I haven't had a chance to get into a whole entire game to show my full potential."
Of course, until he has that tackling thing down pat, he might want to wait a bit.
NOTES: The Redskins got a head start on this week's cuts by releasing five players: LB Alfred Fincher, CB Michael Grant, DT Michael Marquardt, WR Marques Hagans and T Devin Clark. Fincher played in 15 games as a reserve last year, but the Redskins drafted three linebackers in April. The cuts leave the Redskins with 75 players, a figure all NFL teams must reach by Tuesday afternoon. ... Not practicing Sunday: RBs Clinton Portis and Marcus Mason (each with a bruised rib), CB Carlos Rogers (calf strain), S Kareem Moore (pulled hamstring) and DT Albert Haynesworth (illness).
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