Although the sun was beating down unmercifully on the Redskin Park practice field again yesterday, leaving players drenched in sweat just from calisthenics, defensive end Phillip Daniels sported a smile that seemed as wide as his wingspan.
"I feel great," said Daniels, 31. "I'm happy to be back. No doubt I'm a little rusty, a little hesitant to stick my hand in there sometimes because of the dislocated wrist, but it's getting better every day. And by the time the season comes, it will be fine."
Washington's defense was surprisingly fine despite not having Daniels for most of last season, ranking third in the NFL, but defensive line coach Greg Blache said his return is a big plus.
"Phillip is a good man, and a good man with something to prove is a force to be dealt with," said Blache, Daniels' coordinator in Chicago from 2000 to 2003 who encouraged the Redskins to give him a five-year, $12.65million contract in March 2004.
But after missing just nine games during eight years with Seattle and Chicago, Daniels was laid low by a torn groin and then by a dislocated wrist that limited his season to two healthy games and parts of three others.
"Last year was a year I would love to forget," Daniels said. "It was tough watching. I wanted to be on the field so badly with my teammates that I was going to do whatever I had to do to get back there. The first time I came back, I wasn't healthy enough. I played [against Green Bay] and the next game I reaggravated my groin. I've had injuries that I played through, but a groin torn away from the bone and a dislocated wrist, I couldn't play through those."
The injuries were doubly frustrating for Daniels because he's such a fanatic about taking care of his body and he what he puts in it that defensive tackle Joe Salave'a dubbed him "the Pharmacist."
"When I was power lifting about five years ago, I realized I had to take better care of my body," Daniels said. "I started taking a whole bunch of vitamins like Glucosamine, Mega Men. I've pretty much got the whole team on Accelerade to help guys hydrate themselves.
"And I watch what I eat. I don't eat too much junk. I had to give up the chips and cake. I eat lots of fish and baked or broiled chicken. I love sushi for protein. I'm in a lot better shape than I used to be. I told some of the guys just before I left Chicago that I was 31 when I was out there running around. Those guys didn't believe me. I had to show them my license."
Daniels might no longer be the bull rusher who averaged seven sacks from 1998 to 2002, but he certainly will be more of a force than the collection of waiver-wire ends who filled in last season. Assistant head coach Gregg Williams said Daniels does the little things like breaking down the pocket or closing off a hole that let teammates produce the sack or the tackle for loss.
"Phillip is good against the run, and he's a powerful pass rusher who can push the pocket," Blache said. "He has a presence in the huddle, the meeting room, the locker room. He's a real professional. Phillip's not real talkative, but when he does say things, people listen. Guys that last as long as Phillip understand how to take care of their bodies, their teammates and their jobs."
Said Daniels: "I feel like I'm 25. The doctors say I've got no crunching, no swelling in my knees. They can hardly believe it's my 10th season, but if you take care of yourself, you can play a long time. I feel like I have four or five more years easy."
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