'Skins' Hicks is a relief

Running back prepared to fill in again vs. Bucs if Davis' injury acts up

January 14, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- Running back Skip Hicks is like the understudy who goes through all the rehearsals, then winds up backstage when the curtain goes up.

For the second straight week, Hicks has taken most of the work in practice as the Washington Redskins prepare for tomorrow's divisional playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That's because Stephen Davis, who was nursing an ankle injury last week, is hobbled with ankle and knee injuries this week.

He practiced yesterday for the first time this week and was limited to about a dozen plays, but is likely to start against the Bucs.

Davis did the same thing last week against the Detroit Lions when he participated sparingly in practice, then bolted for 119 yards on 15 carries before going down with a knee injury.

Davis was hurt on the play before the Redskins kicked a field goal to make it 20-0 en route to a 27-13 victory.

Hicks finished up, gaining just 46 yards in 23 carries, but the game was already decided.

The two players figure to reprise their roles tomorrow. Davis will go as long as he can, then Hicks will take over.

The difference is that nobody expects the Redskins to run up a 20-0 lead against a Tampa Bay defense that is ranked third in the league in yardage allowed.

If the Redskins had all their weapons, the matchup of the Washington offense, ranked second in the league in yardage gained, against the Tampa Bay defense would be one to watch.

However, not only is Davis ailing, but so is left tackle Andy Heck. Center Cory Raymer will play, but he is bothered by a pulled muscle in his rib cage.

All this means if the game is on the line in the second half, the Redskins could be trying to survive with Hicks running behind a banged-up line.

The Redskins are candid about what the loss of Davis, who made the Pro Bowl by leading the NFC with 1,405 yards rushing, would mean.

"We don't have the power running game without Stephen," coach Norv Turner said.

Guard Tre Johnson noted the Redskins need Davis to complement their passing game.

"Stephen Davis is the jab and body work of the fight. You need him. That overhand right is [Michael] Westbrook and A. C. [Albert Connell] down the field. You need both to win the fight. You need everybody," he said.

If the Redskins can't run, the Bucs can unleash their pass rush and blitz quarterback Brad Johnson.

Turner, though, noted that Hicks is good at catching passes out of the backfield and said, "A lot of people who lose a starter don't have a player of Skip's ability behind him."

Hicks, though, doesn't seem to think he's the Rodney Dangerfield of the backfield. He thinks he gets respect even though he carried only 78 times for 257 yards during the regular season.

"They [his teammates] know what I can do, and opponents watch me and see my strengths and weaknesses and respect what I do," Hicks said. "I have a pretty good record."

Hicks was expected to be the team's featured running back after running for 433 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season last year while filling in for ailing Terry Allen. Davis mostly played fullback last year and gained only 109 yards in his third season.

The only time Davis got noticed in his first three seasons was when Westbrook decked him on the sidelines of a practice two years ago.

But Davis won the job with a good showing in training camp.

Said Brad Johnson: "I thought at the beginning of the year that both of them might split the time, depending on what our needs were. The first game, Davis rushed for about 130 yards [actually 109] against Dallas and just took over from that point. Fortunately, we've had a lot of explosive plays, put up a lot of points, and he stayed healthy for the most part until the very end of the season."

Hicks took his demotion well.

"I wasn't upset," he said. "Somebody was going to have to start, and he did a great job during two-a-days [in training camp] and beat me out and earned a starting position. It wasn't anything I can be angry about. I had my chance. That's all you can ask for."

Hicks calls himself a pretty relaxed guy.

He wasn't thrilled he got a $1,500 fine when Tre Johnson bopped an official on the head during a scuffle in the Lions-Redskins game. He didn't seem to be doing much but standing on the field because the Redskins had the ball when the fracas broke out.

"I couldn't believe it," he said of the fine and added he'll appeal.

"I'm pretty sure they'll look at it and if they think I need a fine, then they'll fine me and if not, they'll take it back. It was pretty much a message [that fighting won't be tolerated] that the league was trying to make," he said.

Hicks finally got his chance when Davis sprained an ankle against the Indianapolis Colts last month, but his scatback style didn't seem to fit with an offense built around Davis' power running.

"I've got to adjust to the way they block certain things," he said.

Hicks played the second half in Indianapolis and gained 39 yards on 11 carries.

The next week in San Francisco, he gained 48 yards on 13 carries. The Redskins switched the emphasis to the passing game as Johnson threw for 471 yards to beat the 49ers.

Hicks' next two efforts against the Dolphins and Lions were almost identical -- 22 carries for 53 yards and 23 carries for 46 yards.

"I haven't been too patient getting into the flow of the game," he said.

But he's ready for the opportunity against the Bucs.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself and confidence in my ability," he said. "I've just got to go out and play my game and do what I can do to help us advance in the playoffs."

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