- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

Washington Redskins guard Keith Sims looks like a dead man (when) walking. He barely practices, limps badly and wears a brace when sleeping to offset the Achilles' tendinitis that will eventually sideline him for several weeks. Indeed, Sims' offseason will mean two months of little walking for his left heel to finally heal.

But Sims readies for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday without complaint despite knowing Veterans Stadium is the NFL's worst surface. Many players liken the artificial turf to playing on a road. Sims would love the day off, but the Redskins offensive line can't lose a third interior player. After guard Tre Johnson left with a probable season-ending knee injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Sims knew his safety net was cut.

"The team needs me," he said. "It's not dire. Hopefully, I can keep chugging along."

The Redskins' offense hopes it can keep chugging along, too. Losing receiver Michael Westbrook hurt the downfield passing game while season-ending knee injuries to center Cory Raymer and Johnson have narrowed running back Stephen Davis' favorite running lane. Quarterback Brad Johnson is throwing off his heels when he isn't chasing a bad snap.

An offensive line that once seemed so promising is now using more contingency plans than a stock market analyst. Onetime reserve center Mark Fischer and guard Jay Leeuwenburg are now starters while the Redskins consider tackle Andy Heck, rookie guard Mookie Moore and newly signed guard Derrick Fletcher as Sims' backups. Any more injuries to a team that has already lost five players to the injured reserve would leave the line without a trustworthy replacement. With Sims flirting with a layoff, the Redskins worry an offense struggling to remain effective will be stalled and its quarterback vulnerable.

The Redskins scored 443 points last season behind a line with four players starting 16 games. Sacks fell from 61 in 1998 to 31 last year because of the offensive line consistency. Now the unit is on the verge of needing pregame introductions.

"I don't know if injuries run in cycles, but you have to be prepared for [them]," said offensive line coach Russ Grimm. "You just get them ready and keep on moving. If you have a bad play in the game, forget about it and move on to the next one. It hurts any time you lose two starters [but] sometimes you do better with a guy with less ability because he knows the assignments better."

Davis is running outside more this season, partly because of the loss of Johnson and Raymer. Still, his 513 yards rushing leads the NFL. He ranks third with 637 total yards. Davis' 141 yards on 28 carries with a 50-yard touchdown in the 20-17 overtime victory over the Bucs proved the Redskins can still run well against a strong run defense without the two linemen.

"We invested a lot of time in the offseason finding ways to get the ball outside," coach Norv Turner said. "The 50-yard run was a pitch play on the edge. We haven't done a great deal of that in the past. That's helped Stephen and the offensive line, but he gets so many tough yards inside. He got three and four yards consistently against a real good defense without a lot of room to run."

The offensive line prefers to run than pass. It's largely pride that drives lineman to create holes, but Sims said running well against Tampa Bay proved the offense can produce.

"If we run the ball effectively, we'll always have a chance with the way the defense is playing," he said. "There are going to be shots where they'll throw you for a loss because they'll have an unblocked lane, but just like Tampa you're going to find that crease sometime and see Stephen Davis go 50 or longer."

Equally worrisome is whether Johnson remains healthy when regularly pursued. The Redskins reduced sacks from 61 in 1998 to 31 last season and have only eight this year because Johnson can throw a quick dump-off. However, those knockdowns may become a knockout.

"If I can sit in the pocket and take a few hits at times it will help us out," Johnson said, "but over the long haul you have to limit it."

Said Turner: "He's taken a pretty good beating in three or four of our football games. I'm concerned about it because it takes it toll over a long time."

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