Friday, November 16, 2001

The Washington Redskins once again believe in running back Stephen Davis. With the second best four-game stretch of his career, Davis has been the catalyst in the season’s turnaround that has revived the Redskins’ faint playoff hopes heading into Sunday’s game in Denver.

Davis’ 447 yards since becoming the offensive core trail only his 481 in 1999 that included a career-best 183 against the New York Giants. However, he has been more consistent during the current run with 99 yards against Dallas and Carolina, 107 against New York and 142 against Seattle. The 1999 streak included three 100-yard games but also just 33 on nine carries against Buffalo.

It’s a striking contrast to Davis’ 219 yards in this season’s first four games, when he averaged just 13 carries. Team sources said coach Marty Schottenheimer told offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye to run Davis more often again Dallas. Davis gained 99 yards on 23 carries in the 9-7 loss Oct. 15 and since has steadily increased his carries with 32 against Seattle.

“Every offense needs to hang its hat on somebody, and right now we’re hanging our hat on the running game,” quarterback Tony Banks said. “That’s what the offensive line loves to do. That’s what we do best.”

The Redskins’ interior line and Banks have vested roles in Davis’ success. Left guard Dave Szott needed several games to get ready after signing at training camp’s end. Szott played only one game last year before suffering an arm injury, so the near two-year layoff left him needing added reps and bulk. Szott has gained 28 pounds over the past three months and now effectively pulls to the right to open holes.

“Dave needed to get back into football shape,” Schottenheimer said. “He wasn’t as crisp or as sharp as he would have liked to have been.”

Right guard Ben Coleman has started the last three games after being limited by a sprained knee during the first week of camp.

The Redskins tried rookie David Brandt and veteran Matt Campbell while Coleman took the time to heal, and the biggest Redskin (6-foot-5, 332 pounds) made the wait worthwhile.

Coleman gives the Redskins a big body in Davis’ primary lane. Davis gained a team-record 2,723 yards over the past two years to reach consecutive Pro Bowls behind massive right guard Tre Johnson. Coleman can dominate smaller defensive tackles, with the brawling sometimes spilling over to center Cory Raymer.

“I have a knee brace on my right knee and now an elbow brace and shoulder brace on the right, so Ben’s been helping me out a whole lot,” Raymer said jokingly.

The Redskins have always considered offensive tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen to be the cornerstones of their line, but Davis is a better inside runner, especially because his toughness can wear down opponents.

“You just have to give him a little crease and he’ll take it,” Raymer said.

Davis has been especially sensitive to his linemen this season, deflecting personal achievements to his blockers. He doesn’t want to be perceived as selfish.

“I feel good about the success of the offense the last four weeks,” he said. “Everybody has contributed. I’m one of those who have contributed.”

But teammates remember the “Believe in Stephen” campaign in 1999 when Davis’ team-record 1,405 yards led the Redskins to their first NFC East title since winning Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. Davis’ success has eased the burden on Banks and rookie receiver Rod Gardner.

“Confidence is very high. I think we can run on anybody,” Szott said.

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