Offensive line gives 'Skins shot to make up ground

Improved performance has helped Banks, Davis in 3-game winning streak

Pro Football

November 16, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Even the most casual Washington Redskins fan can make the cause-and-effect connection between the improved performances of quarterback Tony Banks and running back Stephen Davis and the upswing of the team's offense.

In the past three games - all Redskins wins - Banks has thrown for 688 yards and five touchdowns, while Davis has run for 348 yards with his first rushing touchdown of the season and a season-high 142 yards coming in the 27-14 win over Seattle, which had the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the league, two weeks ago.

But tucked inside the obvious is the subtle, but noticeable improvement of the Redskins' offensive line, which is playing the best it has all season.

"They've been outstanding," Washington coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "They've been up against two very good fronts the last couple of weeks and have done a tremendous job in creating the opportunity not only to run the ball effectively, but to throw the ball. The five of them ... have done a tremendous job."

While no one will confuse this Washington line with the great "Hogs" of the 1980s, center Cory Raymer, left tackle Chris Samuels, right tackle Jon Jansen, right guard Ben Coleman and left guard Dave Szott have, in recent weeks, given Banks and Davis enough time and opportunities to be effective.

In turn, the Redskins' offense, which spent most of the first few weeks ranked last in the league, has inched up to 29th, just behind Dallas and ahead of Carolina and Cleveland. Their work hasn't gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

"Anytime you can keep your front five as healthy as possible, it's going to be an added advantage for you, and as a quarterback especially," Banks said. "Right now, we've got an aggressive offensive front five. They're approaching every game wanting to run the ball, and anytime you do that and have success doing it, it builds confidence."

Indeed, the rushing game has moved to 17th in the NFL with a 108.4 yards per game average, as the Redskins, who were outscored 112-16 in their first three games, have been competitive enough in the past five games to make the ground game viable.

"We had to run the ball and put our foot down and say that regardless of the first couple of times that the run doesn't work and we have to try something else, to keep on running," said Raymer, a seven-year veteran. "That's pretty much the only thing as an offensive line that we've got. Our fame and glory is the running game. We've been a pretty close group of guys throughout. There are new faces here and there, but we're all still pretty tight. We're having fun."

Said Davis: "Those guys have been doing a great job. They're healthy, they're working hard and they're opening up holes and it shows on the field."

Though Raymer, Jansen, in his third season and Samuels, in his second year, have been constants in Washington the past two seasons, Szott and Coleman have had to blend in.

Szott, who played in Kansas City for 11 years - nine of them for Schottenheimer, was signed late in training camp after missing nearly all of last season with an arm injury. Though he was immediately made a starter, Szott said his strength was sapped in the first few weeks, but he now weighs 293 pounds, 28 more than he did when he signed in August.

Meanwhile, Coleman, a nine-year veteran, was hampered by a nagging right-knee injury in training camp that didn't immediately respond to treatment.

As a result, Coleman, who signed with Washington as an unrestricted free agent after a season in San Diego, fell behind Matt Campbell on the depth chart, but got his first start against the Panthers, which, coincidentally, was the week the Redskins earned their first win.

"I can't say that I iced it and it came back, or I rested and it came back or I started a new lifting program. It was a combination of all those things, because I did everything under the sun to make sure that I crossed my Ts and dotted my Is," Coleman said. "I still don't feel as though I'm 100 percent, but I'm as close as I need to be to do the things that I'm accustomed to doing, and everything else I can kind of work with."

Now, combined with tight ends Zeron Flemister and Walter Rasby, whom Schottenheimer called the best blocking tight end he's seen since former Colt Hall of Famer John Mackey, the line is giving Davis, the ninth-leading rusher in the NFL with 666 yards, plenty of holes.

That, in turn, gives the passing game more punch and consumes the clock, thus shortening the time the defense spends on the field, making the whole team better.

"It's [the confidence level] very high, especially when you look at Seattle and its rush defense and what it was coming into our place and what we did," Szott said. "I believe we're at the point now where we believe we can run on anybody. We have to continue to execute, stay healthy, and see how the chips fall."

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