- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

"Big Daddy" is playing mind games.
Washington Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson no longer comes off the field in passing situations, as he did last season. He gets every shot at the opposing guard to set up the latter for unexpected bull-like rushes into the backfield.
Wilkinson said it's like playing chess on the grass and he gets to be king and if the opposing passer become a little too careless in the pocket, it's checkmate.
"It allows me to be more aggressive in setting my man up," Wilkinson said. "I'm being aggressive and he expects that and all of a sudden I finesse him and get past him."
Amid his best season with the Redskins despite having just one sack, Wilkinson is finally reaching opposing backfields regularly. Maybe he'll never be the impact player expected when he was taken first overall in 1994 by Cincinnati, but Wilkinson has proven to be a durable, consistent lineman who has started 56 straight games.
Wilkinson seems happier than at any other time since Washington traded first- and third-round picks for him in 1998. He takes the regular taunting of defensive tackle Kenard Lang like a father numb to his pesky son's challenges. Lang said Wilkinson likes "quality time" with donuts, eats potato and macaroni salad instead of the greens version and would return from trick-or-treating with an empty bag and a trail of candy wrappers.
"Kenard's a nut. You have to expect some things out of him," Wilkinson said. "I like to have fun and crack jokes whether we're 5-0 or 0-5. We get at each other every day. Our main target is [defensive tackle] Bruce [Smith]. … If you walk in here every day with your head down feeling sorry for yourself, it makes days even that more personal. Dog days are dog days, but you come in with the same approach that eventually we'll get this turned around."
Wilkinson is listed at 325 pounds second on the team behind guard Ben Coleman by seven pounds. But Wilkinson has been "Big Daddy" since middle school, when a football coach gave him the nickname. Critics have said his girth indicates a lack of interest in conditioning, but coach Marty Schottenheimer said such stereotyping is untrue.
"People in the past said Dan didn't always work hard," Schottenheimer said, "but he has worked hard and played hard and played well."
Wilkinson is no longer judged by the failure of the line in particular, he and tackle Dana Stubblefield, a 1998 signee to spearhead a revamping of the defense three years ago.
"I've always separated us," Wilkinson said. "The media has always connected us by the hip."
Schottenheimer wants the team's 28th-ranked run defense to improve, starting with the defensive line. It's a familiar problem the Redskins finished among the worst three run defenses from 1995 to 1998 and the worst six run defenses from 1994 to 1999. That the Redskins have used three defensive coordinators in three seasons hasn't helped develop cohesion.
But the Redskins limited a solid New York Giants running game to just 42 yards on 19 carries last Sunday. Schottenheimer recently reduced the defensive scheme to just 50 percent of the playbook to let players be more physical and concentrate on their strengths. It mirrors Wilkinson's style of brawling when facing double-teams.
"You beat them down physically, and in the second half you can really play with them," Wilkinson said. "It's not a trick game. It's a matter of getting off the ball and being very aggressive. At times I am quick enough to do a finesse move. I have the ability to freelance a little bit."
Schottenheimer preaches stopping the run first because the secondary usually can handle itself in single coverage.
"You have to be able to stop the run or you're never going to win," Schottenheimer said. "You play defense all day and your offense never has the ball. You can scheme to get pressure on the quarterback, but there's very few ways to scheme to stop the run if you can't line up and do it."


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