As one of the newest Redskins, Joe Salave'a is hoping for a quiet rebirth to his NFL career. The 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle signed with the Redskins in late March and considers himself to be somewhat "under the radar" as the team continues its off-season workout program.
"The funny thing is, now that I'm under the radar, I realize that's the way I like it," said Salave'a, a five-year NFL veteran. "I'm here for a purpose. I've come here through the back door, so to speak, and I'm excited about competing for a job."
Because Salave'a played for Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams from 1998-2000 when both were with the Tennessee Titans, he could have an upper hand in the competition for roster spots along the defensive line.
While Salave'a's frame lacks the bulk of classic run-stuffers like Gilbert Brown or Ted Washington, he adds quickness off the point of attack that allows him to shake off blocks and penetrate into the backfield.
Salave'a was selected by the Titans in the fourth round of the 1998 NFL Draft and in 2000 he had his best season under then-Tennessee defensive coordinator Williams. That year, Salave'a played in 15 games and logged 43 tackles, four sacks and two passes defensed.
Salave'a's playing time decreased the following year and he was released by Tennessee after 2002 training camp. After sitting out the season, he caught on with San Diego in September 2003 and played in nine games last year, mostly as a reserve.
In Washington, Salave'a finds himself in the mix at defensive tackle along with veterans Cornelius Griffin, Jermaine Haley and Brandon Noble (who is returning from a knee injury last year). Undrafted rookies Ryan Boschetti (UCLA) and Norman Heuer (Michigan) are also on hand.
"We're all excited because there's a good mix of young guys and veterans here," Salave'a said. "We're all working toward a goal. It's just a matter of all of us buying into Gregg Williams' defensive scheme and what Joe Gibbs is trying to implement here."
Salave'a welcomes the competition because he thinks it will help elevate his game.
"If we can make this offseason competitive, it makes us that much better," he said. "The main focus now is to get in top shape and learn our assignments so that our mental game is ready."
Salave'a, a former All-Pac 10 selection as a senior at Arizona, is one of two natives of American Samoa on the Redskins roster. Offensive lineman Pita Elisara, who is playing in NFL Europe as a member of the Rhein Fire, is the other Redskin player from the small island in the South Pacific.
As a boy, Salave'a left American Samoa in 1989 and moved to Oceanside, Calif., for his freshman year in high school. He has maintained close ties to American Samoa throughout his adult life.
Every summer, Salave'a hosts the Joe Salave'a Football Camp in his home country. The camp provides an opportunity for American Samoan children and athletes to learn the fundamentals of football. During the week-long camp, the young people of the island are exposed to the game, proper nutrition, exercise and sportsmanship.
"This is the fourth year for the summer camp," Salave'a said. "The whole idea is to try and bring a new experience to the kids, because most of them will never get the chance to leave the island and experience America like I have."
Several NFL players have taken part in the camp, including Jevon Kearse, Kenny Holmes and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala.
"I've been blessed and fortunate to go to Arizona and get an education," Salave'a said. "So I realize there has to be some way for me to help the young kids in American Samoa and give back to the community. One way was to get this football camp started and to donate sports equipment to youth leagues. For me, it's just exciting to be able to bring this to them."