- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In nine-plus NFL seasons, Phillip Daniels was seen as a solid starting defensive end with a massive wingspan, but the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Georgian never reached the level of Pro Bowl consideration.

Until the past month.

At 32, Daniels, who had recorded just 471/2 sacks in those nine-plus seasons, has seven sacks in his last four games, which has helped elevate the Redskins from also-ran to NFC semifinalist. Not only is Washington 5-1 when Daniels sacks the quarterback, but his three years on playoff teams coincide with the three seasons in which he had the most sacks.

“Right now they can’t block Big Phil, and it’s really been helping us,” Redskins safety Ryan Clark said. “He’s really changed the face of our defense. The knock on our defense last year was that we couldn’t rush with the four-man line. Last year, we blitzed a lot. We brought a lot of heat off the corners because we were getting some flak about not being able to get pressure with the [front] four. Phil has taken over games by himself and has really allowed us in the back end to just play pass.”

Daniels said he hasn’t changed; the system has.

“I’ve been playing the same way,” Daniels said. “It’s just how they use me. Of course, it was frustrating [when] I was always the one going inside crashing or getting doubled, but you do whatever it takes for your team. Early in the season, I was crashing inside trying to help free up some of our DBs and linebackers. Now that they’re leaving me on the outside, it gives me the opportunity to rush one-on-one a little bit more.”

Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said Daniels took off after his broken wrist finally healed midway through this season.

“We’re being able to isolate a few more four-man rushes, but it always comes back to the player,” Williams said. “Phillip is healthy and arguably playing the best of his career. [Daniels’ final year in Seattle in 1999] may have been his best statistical season, and these last several weeks rival that whole season. I was very interested in Phillip when he was coming out of Seattle, but we just couldn’t afford him [in Tennessee].”

Despite an average sack total in four seasons in Seattle and four in Chicago (where his coordinator was Redskins defensive line coach Greg Blache), Daniels was the first veteran player Washington pursued when it changed coaching staffs in early 2004.

“We decided Phillip was one of the premier people we would go after, and when the clock struck 12, it was fast paced,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. “We got him on the plane and worked hard to sign him.”

Groin and wrist injuries limited Daniels to five games last year and put him on a mission this season.

“I wanted to prove to everybody that I can still play,” Daniels said. “Nothing gets old on me but my clothes. Age ain’t a factor.”

But with age comes experience. And Daniels will need all of his wiles Saturday against Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones, whom he helped train when the Pro Bowl perennial was a rookie in 1997.

“I take credit for teaching Walter everything he knows,” Daniels said with a smile. “I remember when he wasn’t blocking very well. As I continued teaching him, he got better and better. Walter’s one of the best tackles in the league, if not the best. To be that big [6-5, 315] and move the way he does … He’s athletic. He’s got good feet. He’s a guy who can recover fast. Even if you get him, he recovers.”

Said Jones: “Phillip was one of those guys that gave it to you every day at practice. You look forward to getting that kind of work as a young guy coming into the league. … It was fun. It made me better. A lot of times you go against D-ends that try to avoid you a lot, but Phillip loves contact. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, who was in Seattle for those Daniels-Jones practice battles, won’t bet against “Big Worm” in Saturday’s showdown.

“In Seattle, Phil was our big run-stopper,” Springs said. “You couldn’t run to his side. Now you can’t even throw to his side. Phil’s playing so well that I’ve been telling him that I have to come over to his side because he’s been putting so much pressure on the quarterback.”

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