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Salave’a regains strong footing

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It has been a tumultuous two years for Joe Salave'a.

First came the injury, a painful torn plantar fascia in his left foot late in 2005.

Then he arrived late to training camp last season following his mother's burial in Samoa. When the season opened, he missed three games with a calf injury and later lost his starting spot to a rookie, leaving his future with the Washington Redskins in jeopardy.

But now the 32-year-old defensive tackle is back to feeling like his old self.

"I'm excited," Salave'a said. "This is the best I've felt since before I hurt my foot. I feel refreshed from a mental standpoint, too.

"I was a little anxious to see where I was physically when camp started because last year was really, really hard."

Cornelius Griffin, who started 20 games next to Salave'a from 2004 to 2006, knows that as well as anyone at Redskin Park.

"Joe's got a different attitude," Griffin said. "I lost my father right before the season in '98. That stayed with me the whole year. So I know what Joe was going through. Life goes on, but it's hard to focus. Last year, Joe's head was down. Now his head is up."

So is his strength. Salave'a and defensive end Renaldo Wynn spent a grueling week together last month in Las Vegas working out with former UNLV strength coach Mark Philippi, one of the world's strongest men. Philippi had them perform "the drag" in which the resistance of a hydraulic system makes dragging 25 pounds feel like 400.

"We're trying to run while pulling this weight with our bare hands," the 6-foot-3, 337-pound Salave'a said. "You're building the conditioning, power and explosiveness of your legs. It was a great way to get ready for camp."

Wynn said the first day he tried "the drag" Philippi had to reduce the weight from 25 pounds to 10 for him even to budge it.

"It was the hardest work I've ever done," Wynn said. "But Joe and I helped push each other. We just looked at each other like, 'I'll be here tomorrow if you will.' You need that little extra push. Joe and I are getting older and not starting anymore, and you want to keep contributing, keep showing that we can produce at a high level."

But can Salave'a, who had just three tackles in the final five games last year, still do that? With Kedric Golston, Anthony Montgomery and Griffin locks to make the team and Wynn and veteran ends Phillip Daniels and Demetric Evans available at tackle in a pinch, Salave'a can't relax despite a renewed peace of mind.

"Joe has bounced back pretty good," said assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who has coached Salave'a in all but one of his eight NFL seasons. "I think that the personal trauma that he went through led to some of the physical part. When you've been in the trenches as long as Joe has, the mind and body have to work together. Joe needed to have a good training camp, and right now he is. He's had strong practices, and he had a good scrimmage [against Baltimore]. It's fun to see Joe with a bounce in his step."

The next step for Salave'a on the comeback trail comes Saturday in Nashville, where his NFL career began as a rookie in 1998. Tennessee cut Salave'a in 2002 when he was hurting, and he wound up sitting out that entire season. He missed last year's visit by the Titans and is eager for his first chance to take some revenge against his old team.

"I was there when that stadium opened," Salave'a said. "It will be nice to go there and stomp on their stomping grounds. Last year, I was pondering whether I still had it. Now I know I'm healthy again. If the Redskins go in another direction, that's up to them. If that had happened last year, I might have said, 'Maybe it's time to move on and hang up the cleats.' If it's meant to be here, I'm ready to give the Redskins everything I have."