- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Washington Redskins defensive end Marco Coleman collected 12 sacks and his first Pro Bowl invitation last season, goals that became unattainable this year when he dislocated his elbow in Week 2. Coleman missed four games and since has gone largely unnoticed though in some ways he stands out even when he blends in.

"One of the things you look for in a player is a consistent level of performance. Then you can go worry about other things," coach Marty Schottenheimer said yesterday. "Marco's that kind of player. You know you're going to get excellent play out of him every single snap not just every game but every snap. So you never worry about Marco Coleman."

Coleman has done a bit of worrying, though, unsure of his elbow after resuming play in late October. It still isn't 100 percent, and his four missed games were three more than he had in his first nine NFL seasons.

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The tender joint and missed time have left Coleman with 24 tackles and two sacks. But teammates say he has held his gaps and has forced plays to the other side of the field, and he believes that he can step up as Washington makes a run for the playoffs.

"I'm pretty much able to just do my job," Coleman said. "That was my focus [re-entering the lineup], to see if I could contribute to where I could do my job. But now, as we get closer and closer to the playoffs and I get stronger and stronger with my arm, right now big plays are what's needed."

To make those plays Sunday against the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles, the veteran leader must beat mammoth offensive tackle Jon Runyan. Runyan stands 6-foot-7, 330 pounds some four inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than Coleman and has started 82 straight regular season and postseason games, including Super Bowl XXXIV for Tennessee.

Coleman sacked Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb twice last season. To beat Runyan this time, Coleman plans to forgo conventional thinking, which is to race around the powerful blocker whenever possible. Instead, he will test his elbow in a battle of force. The reason? Washington must maintain disciplined rush lanes against the speedy McNabb.

"You've got to make [Runyan] respect your strength," Coleman said. "I'm really forced, playing against Runyan, to be physical because of Donovan. If I run too wide out there, I leave a whole lot of space for Donovan to just run around."

Blanket coverage

Nowhere has a year's time made more difference on the Redskins than in kickoff coverage, where they have gone from worst to first in the NFL.

A year ago, Washington yielded an average kickoff return of 25.5 yards, which ranked last, and an average starting position at the 31, which was worse than all but five teams. This season opponents are gaining just 17.7 yards with an average start at the 24, giving the Redskins No. 1 rankings in both areas.

"It's become more of an attitude than anything," said wide receiver Kevin Lockett, who plays a safety role on the unit. "We found out we were No. 1 about four or five weeks ago, and now it's a situation where we don't want to fall to No. 2."

Redskins kicker Brett Conway has played a key role, working extensively with directional, lofty kickoffs. Although they don't travel as far, they frequently lead to better results.

"We try to move the ball around the field right and left, and hang time is a big thing this year," Conway said. "Even if it comes down at the 10-yard-line, if you've got good hang time we've got a good chance at getting the tackle around the 20."

Kickoff coverage obviously will be important Sunday, when Washington faces former teammate Brian Mitchell, who ranks third in the NFC with a 26.8 average and has the third most all-purpose yards in NFL history.

Extra points

Running back Stephen Davis (flu) and defensive end Bruce Smith (back) returned to practice and should play. Fullback Donnell Bennett (ankle) did not practice. Bennett's ankle was sore, and Schottenheimer sounded a bit concerned about Bennett's availability. Bryan Johnson, who has good speed and reception ability but little experience, would make his first career start if Bennett could not go. …

LaVar Arrington continues to lead Pro Bowl fan voting among NFC players at outside linebacker, according to results released yesterday. Chicago's Rosevelt Colvin is second, Green Bay's Nate Wayne third, Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks fourth and the New York Giants' Jessie Armstead fifth.

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