'Skins hope Davis gets them off and running

If healthy, back can help overcome team's playoff inexperience vs. Lions

Pro Football

January 07, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins are wearing T-shirts this week that proclaim they "Believe in Stephen."

That's Stephen Davis, who came out of nowhere this season to rush for 1,405 yards and 17 touchdowns, make the Pro Bowl and carry the team into the playoffs.

The company that used to make the T-shirts for the "Hogs" back in the team's glory days under Joe Gibbs decided to capitalize on Davis' newfound fame and sell the T-shirts with his name and picture on them. It put them on sale this week and passed them out for the players as a promotional gimmick.

"It's pretty nice when someone asks you if they can use your face on a T-shirt," Davis said.

The playoffs are something new for this group of Redskins. Only four of them remain from the last Gibbs playoff team in 1992, back when the team virtually took the playoffs for granted.

The question for the Redskins yesterday, though, wasn't whether they believe in Davis, but whether they can depend on him tomorrow when they host the Detroit Lions.

Davis missed the last two weeks with a sprained ankle and the team, which doesn't allow reporters to watch practice, reported he's been gimpy at drills the last two days.

Trainer Bubba Tyer conceded he's still not 100 percent and Davis said, "You never know about ankle sprains."

The Redskins are trying to be as optimistic as possible and he'll probably start, but they likely won't know whether his ankle is going to hold up until he starts taking the pounding against the Lions.

A fourth-round selection in 1996, Davis played in the shadow of Terry Allen his first three seasons, gaining only 139, 567 and 109 yards rushing. Last season, when Larry Bowie was injured, he became the fullback and blocked for Allen and Skip Hicks.

His only real moment in the spotlight in his first three years was an unfortunate one when teammate Michael Westbrook beat him up in a practice two years ago after he became annoyed at something Davis said. The incident was caught by a cameraman and the team fined Westbrook $50,000. The two men have since patched things up.

But he was so lightly regarded that when former general manager Charley Casserly tried to extend his contract for the next two years at $1 million a year, new owner Daniel Snyder rejected the idea.

Now Davis, who beat out Hicks in training camp this season and became the feature back, will become an unrestricted free agent and will get a much bigger contract.

The Redskins not only would miss Davis, but the problems could be compounded if coach Norv Turner abandons the run too quickly if Davis is limited. Turner did that in the first game against the Lions, even though Davis was healthy. Turner has a lot of confidence in quarterback Brad Johnson, but he sometimes relies on him too much.

In the 33-17 loss to the Lions last month, Davis carried only 12 times for 51 yards, even though the Redskins trailed only 20-17 after three quarters. He got just three carries in the second half.

On the team's 10 first downs of the second half, Turner called pass plays. On the 10th first-down play, the Lions' James Jones forced a Johnson fumble and Luther Ellis ran it back 11 yards for the touchdown that made it 33-17 midway in the final period.

The Redskins then had to throw, but this time Turner wants to set the tempo with the run.

Davis likes that idea, especially after sitting out the last two games.

"I got tired of sitting on the sidelines eating sunflower seeds the whole game," Davis said. "So I'm ready to go out and enjoy myself like I was doing before the injury."

He added: "I want to go out of the playoff game tired. If I get the ball 30, 35 times a game, I feel happy, I feel relieved. If I'm ready, if my ankle holds up, we can have a pretty good game."

There's little chance Davis can carry 30 times on his sore ankle, but the Redskins would like to get some production out of him.

If Davis is forced out, the Redskins have to go with Hicks, who can run outside, but isn't as good running inside the tackles as Davis is.

As guard Keith Sims said: "Stephen Davis is our MVP. We're a much better offense with Stephen Davis in the huddle and running the football. No offense to Skip Hicks -- I think he did an admirable job filling in -- but we've been moving when Stephen's in the huddle."

Davis averaged 4.8 yards a carry. Hicks averaged 3.3 yards and isn't effective on short-yardage plays.

If Davis can only play part time, it'll put more of a burden on the offensive linemen, who readily admit they played poorly in the first game against Detroit. Each member of the line had at least one penalty (the Redskins had 14 overall) as they had a problem with false starts at the noisy Silverdome and had even more problems containing the Detroit rushers.

Once the Redskins stopped running, Lions rushers teed off and sacked Johnson five times.

"We just got mauled," said Redskins Pro Bowl guard Tre Johnson.

Left tackle Andy Heck said: "We're not proud of that film. It's ugly."

Sims said: "We have something to prove as an offensive line. They really took it to us last time."

Rookie Jon Jansen had particular problems with Robert Porcher of the Lions.

"That was the longest day of my pro career so far," Jansen said. "I don't expect another like it."

If the Redskins are to avoid another day like it, they've got to find a way to run the ball -- with or without Davis -- better than they did in the first meeting.

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