- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. It took just a week for defensive tackle Daryl Gardener's back problems to surface. Gardener briefly departed Washington Redskins training camp yesterday seven days after his first practice with the club because of back spasms, a problem that recurred the past two years and led to surgery both seasons.
The Redskins team doctor who evaluated Gardener before he signed took another look at him yesterday in Northern Virginia and gave team officials upbeat news: the spasms do not appear serious, and Gardener will return to camp for treatment and perhaps a quick return.
"We'll treat him and stretch him," trainer Dean Kleinschmidt said in Carlisle. "It was a good report."
However, the spasms brought a hasty reminder of the risk that accompanied the talented 29-year-old when he signed a one-year, $775,000 contract after a week of camp. Gardener's first spasms occurred in September 2000, when he suffered a herniated disc while playing for the Miami Dolphins. He had surgery Sept. 15 to remove fragments of a lumbar disc and missed six games before returning for the stretch run and the playoffs.
The spasms returned in the 2001 preseason. They did not seem serious at the time, but he made it through just eight games before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove disc fragments and scar tissue Nov. 24.
The Dolphins cut Gardener last month because of questions about his commitment; his history of back troubles and high salary contributed to the move. Washington signed him to an incentive-laden deal, thinking he would be a perfect fit for an expected top-10 defense that was lacking only one more proven tackle.
The Redskins already were thin at defensive tackle, having lost Santana Dotson for the season to a torn Achilles' tendon.
Gardener's work in Saturday's preseason win at Carolina did nothing to temper expectations. He got consistent push on the interior and helped linebacker LaVar Arrington pick up a sack by flushing quarterback Chris Weinke. Also, Gardener combined with defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson to tackle running back Lamar Smith for a 5-yard loss.
Gardener didn't have any trouble with his back Saturday or in practice Monday and even felt fine yesterday morning as he woke up, walked to Biddle Field and showered. But as he put on his workout clothes, Kleinschmidt said, the spasms suddenly began.
Hoping to find a long-term cure, Gardener has seen a series of specialists around the country in recent years. For now the Redskins plan to treat him in-house and hope this is a short-term setback.
"[A return of the spasms is] always a possiblity," Kleinschmidt said. "It will always be a possibility. But he's very understanding about it. He's very well aware of his back, very intelligent about that. So I feel good about what happened."

Thompson's for real
Wide receiver Derrius Thompson believes his outstanding start to the preseason is no fluke.
"Preseason or not, you're out there playing and [your opponents] are trying to make a team," Thompson said. "They're not going to relax. Everything you do carries over to the season just like what you do in practice carries over to the game."
In two games the 25-year-old already has eight catches for a team-high 178 yards and two touchdowns significantly higher than his regular-season career totals in receptions (three) and yards (52).
With those numbers, his great size (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) and athleticism and some strong special teams work last season, Thompson appears to be the leading candidate to make the roster after the three receivers who are considered locks (Rod Gardner, Jacquez Green and Kevin Lockett). However, Chris Doering, Reidel Anthony and Darnerien McCants also are making strong bids for the Nos. 4 and 5 slots.
"Derrius has got a lot of talent, tremendous talent," coach Steve Spurrier said. "He can run, he can catch, he's got good size, [hes] tough. He's just now catching a lot of passes in practice and in games. He's just hopefully realizing and fulfilling his potential."
Justin Skaggs was expected to make the club as a returner/special teams contributor/receiver, but he has struggled and has just one catch in the preseason. However, receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. thinks Skaggs can make a late push.
"Yeah, he hasn't hit all the opportunities that the other guys have, but keep an eye on him," Spurrier Jr. said. "He'll get more of a chance this week and next week [with Green somewhat limited by a rib sprain]."

Extra points
The elder Spurrier left open the possibility that he would wait until after the final preseason game (Aug. 29 vs. New England) to name the starting quarterback. Danny Wuerffel, the apparent front-runner, is slated to start Sunday against Pittsburgh and Aug. 24 at Tampa Bay.
Spurrier joked that naming the starter "might be after the kickoff" of the Sept. 8 opener against Arizona, saying, "Whoever runs out there first will be the starter."
Washington has passed 68 percent of the time in the preseason, leading to heavy speculation that Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis will be ignored. But Davis called that "just a perception."
"I think I will get my carries," Davis said. "It won't be as many as in the past, but I think they'll be quality-type carries. You have guys spread it out, and I'll have a lot of runs."
He won't gripe about his role, saying, "I'm comfortable. I'm a professional. My job is to go out and do what the coach asks me to do catch the ball in the backfield, run the ball."

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