- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

Kickoff returner Michael Bates, one of the few standouts on the Washington Redskins this season, tomorrow faces the Carolina Panthers, with whom he went to five straight Pro Bowls from 1996 to 2000.

It was with the Panthers that Bates, now 31, became a truly elite player, though he was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl squad as a Seattle Seahawks rookie in 1993. He averaged an outstanding 30.2 yards a return in his first season with Carolina, becoming just the second player to average more than 30 yards since 1977.

This year Bates is averaging 26.9 yards a return, third-best mark in the NFC. He has nearly broken several for touchdowns, but his last score remains a 92-yarder as a Panther in last season's opener against the Redskins.

Bates is one of two active players (with former Redskin and current Philadelphia Eagle Brian Mitchell) to have five or more kickoff returns for touchdowns.

A bronze medal winner in the 200 meters at the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona, Bates has been hearing from Redskins teammates this week that he owes them a touchdown for what he did as a Panther last season.

"That's what everyone keeps telling me," Bates said with a laugh yesterday. "I just hope I have a chance to get back there and return one and bring some excitement to the team."

Bates is eager to play against his old teammates, having kept in touch with several of them, including running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka and fullback Chris Hetherington.

Bates believes that the Redskins' special teams are improving as many of the young players mature.

"We're still young. We're still trying to come together as a team," Bates said. "But we've got guys out there doing what they need to do and trying to get the job done. That's all I can ask for."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer appreciates Bates' consistent returns but continues to stress his ability on coverage teams, saying, "You kind of get lost sometimes in the coverage part of it [because] people know him so well as a returner. … He brings very positive energy to everything he does in the kicking game."

Bates began the season as the Redskins' punt returner but was not able to generate any yardage. Bates also has been considered for duties as a third-down running back, but Ki-Jana Carter appears to be the front-runner now for that job.

Gardner staying late

Rookie wide receiver Rod Gardner has been plagued by dropped balls this season. In an effort to stop that trend, he has stayed late after practice each day this week and worked on both long and short passes.

"Any kind of catch you can think of, that's what I'm working on," Gardner said. "You can't ever have enough work. I've got a lot of things I've got to learn, a lot of things I've got to do to improve my game."

The extra work was largely Gardner's idea, but he said receivers coach Richard Mann has helped him to design drills. Said Gardner: "We've put our heads together to come up with stuff to do to get better."

Extra points

There is a small possibility that defensive end Marco Coleman could play tomorrow. Coleman, the starting left end, has been sidelined since dislocating his elbow Sept. 24 at Green Bay. Yesterday he said he felt "better" and that playing would be a coach's decision.

Schottenheimer, in turn, said he would rather wait a week too long than put Coleman in a week too early. If Coleman can play, the coach added, it likely would be in a reserve role. However, Schottenheimer didn't rule out Coleman starting.

Of a return to the starting lineup, Coleman said, "If I'm out there, I'm going all out." …

Cornerback Kato Serwanga, who was signed Tuesday to compensate for the injury to rookie Fred Smoot, is likely to see playing time on special teams tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Schottenheimer does not expect veteran Darrell Green, who is starting for Smoot, to need any more rest during the game than Smoot would.

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