For Coles, stats will come

he wants wins

Four-game slide bothers 'Skins receiver more than his underwhelming output

Pro Football

October 15, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Never mind that, as one of the Washington Redskins' go-to guys, he has yet to catch a touchdown pass. And don't ask him to dwell on the injuries that have hampered his productivity during what is becoming a testy season for him and the rest of his teammates.

Laveranues Coles said he feels good. The ailing middle finger and thumb on his right hand are healing. He is enjoying a crisp week of practice. Regardless of how he performs Sunday in Chicago, if Washington reverses a four-game losing streak, with or without an awakening by its struggling offense, Coles' world will look a little brighter.

The fact that the Redskins rank 29th in the NFL with a scoring average of 14.2 points is not a direct reflection of Coles, the fifth-year wide receiver who left the New York Jets to join Washington as a restricted free agent before last season. Washington's running game has been ineffective. Veteran quarterback Mark Brunell's 53.4 percent completion rating ranks last in the league.

Through five games, Coles, 5 feet 11, 193 pounds, leads the 1-4 Redskins with 27 receptions and has produced 316 yards. But after scoring 18 touchdowns over his previous three seasons, the former Florida State standout has yet to find the end zone in 2004.

"Right now, we're still learning each other. The offense is new for everyone, and it's an adjustment for everybody, including me. This is my fourth new offense in five years," Coles said.

"I don't think [not having a touchdown reception] is as frustrating as losing right now. You can't put it on one guy's shoulders. I feel fine. I'm practicing every day. I don't want to talk about the finger."

Coles, who also has been bothered by thumb and toe ailments, suffered a dislocated middle finger on his right hand in a 21-18 loss to Dallas on Sept. 27, during a Monday night game in which he dropped several key passes before a national television audience.

The thought of leaving the game never entered his mind, which is something coach Joe Gibbs loves about Coles, who has made 53 consecutive starts and has made much of his living catching the ball over the middle. There, receivers absorb nasty hits from linebackers and safeties.

"I'm going to lean on certain guys. [Coles] is an extremely tough guy who's got a lot of courage," Gibbs said. "He has a tendency to say he's playing no matter what. We tried to get him to take a practice off [earlier]. You appreciate his spirit. I just have confidence in him that he'll bounce back and catch the next ball for us."

Added receivers coach Stan Hixon: "If he gets hurt, he won't tell me. We've got to see how he's running on film [to tell]. He's a full-speed guy all the way."

Coles can line up wide or in the slot, and can beat defenses on short, deep or intermediate routes. After the Jets made him a third-round draft pick in 2000, he averaged 16.8 yards per catch in a limited role as a rookie. By 2002, he established his reliability with career-highs in receptions (89) and yards (1,264).

That led the Redskins, then coached by Steve Spurrier, to sign him last year. Coles returned the favor by becoming the first Washington receiver to make a Pro Bowl since Gary Clark in 1991, catching 82 passes for 1,204 yards and six scores. Coles also set an NFL record by recording at least five catches in 19 straight games, spanning the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Brunell said it's only a matter of time before he and Washington's other playmakers master each other's tendencies and begin to click consistently.

"All of the things that go into being a solid passing team we can improve on. Decision-making and being more accurate with the ball, [running] precise routes, good reads, good protection," Brunell said.

"We've got good players. We're lucky to have guys like Laveranues. It just takes time to develop a rapport with guys, where it's second nature and you know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It's a matter of spending time together."

NOTE: Kicker John Hall strained his right groin during practice yesterday and is listed as questionable for the Bears game.

Next for Redskins

Matchup: Chicago Bears (1-3) vs. Washington Redskins (1-4)

Site: Soldier Field, Chicago

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

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