Pro football's Superman has spent some time playing Clark Kent lately.
When New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor collected three sacks and forced a fumble in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, despite skipping training camp while holding out, it enhanced the Superman reputation of the nine-time Pro Bowler.
Since then, though, Taylor has looked, at times, like a 31-year-old linebacker. He's had a total of just 1 1/2 sacks the past five games and none in the past three.
When he lines up against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, he'll be trying to end a drought of two games without a sack against a team he once terrorized.
Giants coach Bill Parcells said: "It's different when you're 31 than it is when you're 21. It takes him a little while longer to recover from games than it used to, and he has to deal with that, too."
It's also tougher on Taylor now that the team's other outside linebacker, Carl Banks, is on injured reserve with a damaged wrist. Opposing teams can run away from Taylor more effectively.
Taylor says skipping training camp has taken its toll. It took time for him to get in shape, and he was set back when he pulled a hamstring against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 23.
"Usually in the fourth quarter, when everyone else is tired, I can step it up and make some plays. That hasn't happened this year," he said.
Taylor, though, still commands respect.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs seemed to get upset when it was suggested two weeks ago that the Redskins showed last year they could stop Taylor. The game two weeks ago hasn't changed Gibbs' mind.
According to the coach, Taylor changes the Redskins' playbook.
"If you want to add up everything he does to you, it starts with the things you can't do right off the bat. You don't run certain plays against him. It's hard to run a lot of your favorite things. You have to change your style of offense," Gibbs said.
The Redskins often double-team Taylor with tackle Jim Lachey and tight end Don Warren and occasionally get wide receiver Ricky Sanders in his way.
Parcells said: "Several teams have decided he's not going to ruin their game. Teams have decided to do something about him and guys like Reggie White [of the Eagles]."
Taylor, who says he'll retire when his contract expires after the 1992 season, points to the double-teaming as a sign that he's still a force.
"When they start blocking me with a single person and not worrying where I'm at or what I'm doing, that's when I know I'm just another ballplayer," he said.
Taylor doesn't appear concerned about his age.
"Three weeks ago, I was the greatest thing since white bread. All of a sudden now, 'Oh, he's too old.' I don't think you're going to find a whole lot of people saying, 'He's ready for the junkyard.' That's quite evident by what teams are doing," he said.
Giants general manager George Young says Taylor's only problem is living up to his reputation.
"The trouble with great players, like great coaches, is that they're fighting their own legend every week," Young said.
NOTES: Redskins defensive lineman Markus Koch, who suffered knee injury Sunday, practiced only lightly. Fred Stokes likely will start in his place. It's uncertain whether Koch will play.