- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis wouldn't hesitate to pick himself first in a fantasy league draft.

In his mind, Indianapolis' Edgerrin James would go second, followed by St. Louis' Marshall Faulk, Tennessee's Eddie George and the New York Jets' Curtis Martin. It doesn't matter that James, Faulk and George gained more yards than Davis last season, with Martin only 114 behind. Davis feels the last two seasons have proved he's as good as anyone.

"If [rotisserie league players] are smart they would take me," he said. "I'll take me, too. I don't have to prove anything to anybody. I made the best of my opportunity."

"Believe in Stephen" has become more than a top-selling T-shirt in 1999. After two seasons on the bench and a third as a fullback, Davis gained a team-record 1,405 yards that year in leading the Redskins to their only playoff season since 1992. Davis followed with 1,318 yards last season, setting a team-record for yardage over a two-year span, and earned Pro Bowl honors both seasons.

Now Davis will try to become the first Redskin to gain 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Earnest Byner fell two yards short in 1992. John Riggins surpassed 1,000 yards in 1978-79 and 1983-84 but missed a chance at three straight as a result of a holdout in 1980 and the strike in 1982.

But 1,000 yards isn't the goal. Indeed, that would almost be a disappointment. For the Redskins to be playoff contender, Davis has to return to his 1999 form, when he averaged 4.8 yards a carry to control games.

"No, it's not [an unreachable goal]," Davis said. "I could see if it's 2,000 yards. Eighteen hundred yards is high. But 1,300 yards or 1,400? I have done it. I want more than that."

Quarterback Jeff George has long said he will defer to Davis as the Redskins' offensive foundation. He knows a dominating back wins games. Besides, the new offense will allow George to pick apart defenses that gear up for Davis at the line of scrimmage.

"I think I can help him with the threat of the passing game," George said. "We compliment each other real well. I'd love to know going into a game that all I do is throw 10 plays and don't lose the game and let Stephen take us into the victory. Hopefully, we can get him 25 to 30 carries for 150 yards. We have the line to do it. We ultimately know Stephen can carry the load. I'll ride him. I don't have a problem with that."

Ironically, if Davis produces more this season it will come by catching passes out of the backfield. He caught a career-best 33 last year, but the short-passing game could increase that number to 50.

"They're emphasizing that we're going to run the ball," Davis said. "I think [there will] be a lot [of] catching the ball out of the backfield."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer was impressed with Davis' receiving ability during offseason camps. Davis heads upfield after the reception better than he did earlier in his career, which often means extra yardage.

"I think he's a pretty good receiver," Schottenheimer said. "The key for him is for us to be able to spell him from time to time. Whether we can do that remains to be seen. I've always been somebody that prefers to have one back, but he is a very integral part of what we're trying to do."

Davis spent the offseason with a new weight training program that increased his abdominal strength. After all, if Davis is going to run up the gut, he better have the stomach for it.

Meanwhile, get ready for the mock drafts. And don't say Davis didn't warn you.

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