- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis didn't spend Sunday watching football. On the weekend of the Redskins' open date, he played a different kind of game miniature golf with his young children, which was pretty much an all-day endeavor.

"Took about 18 hours," Davis said with a smile. "Hour a hole."

But Davis was well aware of what transpired in San Diego. The Chargers upset defending Super Bowl champion New England, riding 217 rushing yards by second-year running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Coach Marty Schottenheimer, fired as Redskins coach nine months ago, improved to 4-0 with his new club.

"Yeah, I heard about it," Davis said. "Ran the ball. Ran the ball and won."

Schottenheimer seemingly had to re-learn that simple formula last year, when Davis averaged 13 carries in four opening losses as Washington stumbled toward 0-5. After that, the Pro Bowl back had at least 21 rushes in 11 of the final 12 games, helping the Redskins finish 8-8 and breaking his own team record with 1,432 yards.

Now the Redskins are 1-2 under Steve Spurrier. After an opening win over Arizona in which Davis got 26 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, he rushed 25 times in a pair of losses. Both recent opponents, Philadelphia and San Francisco, played mostly conservative zone defenses, happy to defend the big play and let the error-prone Redskins undermine their own drives.

When the Redskins play Sunday at Tennessee, it might be time within the confines of Spurrier's pass-first offense to follow Schottenheimer's lead out West and lean on the workhorse back.

"People forget that we've got one of the best backs in the league," wide receiver Kevin Lockett said. "If teams are going to play us like that, then we're going to hand the ball off to him. [And] if you give Stephen the ball and guys start coming up, then we'll throw right back behind them again."

Like last season, the failure to give Davis carries isn't totally the coach's decision. In games then and now, Washington fell behind early and passed frequently to catch up. In addition, limited success on offense means fewer first downs, fewer plays and fewer opportunities to run even if the coach wants to.

Perhaps for those reasons, Spurrier bristled yesterday when asked about the importance of establishing Davis.

"Oh, it would be very nice," Spurrier said. "It would be very nice if we never had to throw the ball. How about that? We could run for six yards every down, that would be an easy game. We'd just call them and away we'd go.

"Sometimes it's not as easy as everybody thinks. We've got to try what we can do to run our offense, mix it up. Obviously the Arizona game is the only game we did worth a dang, and we mixed it up we all know that. We always try to do that. Hopefully we won't get behind and have to try to catch up a little bit."

The Fun 'n' Gun has given Davis plenty of touches in one regard as an outlet for short passes when the deep targets are covered. Davis has a team-high 17 receptions, already more than halfway to his career-high of 33. But his longest catch is only 10 yards and it's uncertain whether he or the offense can dominate unless it plays to his strengths.

"I think he fits in fine," quarterback Shane Matthews said of Davis. "A lot of people think he's more of a power running game-type back, which may be the case. But I think we can win with him here, as well."

Davis' role has been overshadowed the past two weeks as attention has shifted to quarterback, where Matthews has been benched and either Danny Wuerffel or rookie Patrick Ramsey will start Sunday. Tight end Walter Rasby remembers a similar situation a year ago, when starter Jeff George was cut after two games and replaced by Tony Banks. Rasby has the same opinion now that he had then when Schottenheimer actually came to him for advice.

"He was just trying to get guys' opinions, older guys' opinions," Rasby recalled. "I told him, 'Marty, I don't care who you play at quarterback. I think it starts with Stephen.' We have to get him going. The public's perception of Coach Spurrier's offense is that we're going drop back and throw the ball down the field. If we can get Stephen the ball, that's going to open his offense up like you've never seen it open up."

Rasby expects to return Sunday from a sprained knee that has sidelined him since late in the preseason. Although he might be limited, his powerful blocking should boost the running game just one more indication that Davis will get his carries. But Davis isn't dwelling on such projections, saying simply, "We'll see."

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