- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

As a chilly wind swept across the Washington Redskins' minicamp yesterday, defensive end Marco Coleman listened to how line coach Ricky Hunley wanted him to attack a phantom blocker. He performed the drill and then checked to make sure he got it right.
One might not expect a 32-year-old Pro Bowl player to be so inquisitive and thorough particularly when the player, like Coleman, has a $5.3million salary cap number that could mean his days with the club are numbered. But those who know Coleman and those who are getting to know him expect nothing less.
"He's a pro," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said after practice. "He asked good questions in the meeting. When I corrected him on things, on how we want to do things, he really wants to know how. He says, 'Marvin, show me exactly what you mean.'"
Despite such dedication, a Pro Bowl performance in 2000 and consistent leadership in three seasons with the Redskins, Coleman is in jeopardy because Washington is in such need of cap space (with less than $3million available) and he is one of the few players who can provide it.
The Redskins' nearly $11million of "dead money" (dedicated to players like Deion Sanders no longer on the roster) and host of players with low salaries make options for cap space scant. Coleman could provide relief by renegotiating his deal, but the club will be tempted to open $3.5million by releasing him after June 1.
Such savings will be hard to pass up because Coleman is over 30 and coming off a subpar season in which he was limited by a dislocated elbow. But for now this blue-collar star is ignoring the writing on the wall and instead trying to run through it in practice.
"[A cap-induced cut is] something all the guys that are here that are veterans have to look at," Coleman said. "You never know. You just have to move on if that's the case."
So goes the unflappable mindset of Coleman, one of the rare Redskins who can tell teammates when they need to work harder and they listen, rather than getting bitter and tuning him out.
"He's the one that's normally more than anybody else ranting and raving and using bad verbiage," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said with a laugh. "Without a doubt, guys respect him and guys look to him. He's a great guy."
And the Redskins' defensive line might be left in disarray if he leaves. Already starter Kenard Lang has signed with Cleveland and right end Bruce Smith, 38, is unlikely to be an every-down player. Washington must find free agents or draftees to replace Lang and spell Smith; replacing Coleman as well might be too much for this cap-strapped team.
This week's minicamp lets the Redskins look at Coleman and get an idea of how they might approach renegotiation. Such a deal could mean guaranteeing his salary (the best option for the player), converting his salary to incentives or simply reducing his salary (the best option for the team).
Coleman, for his part, does have something to prove. He made just 4 sacks and 40 tackles last season, missing Weeks 3 to 6 with an elbow injury. The frustrating year came after he recorded a career-high 12 sacks and 62 tackles in 2000, proving he could stand out on the left side, where his 6-foot-3, 270-pound frame is considered a bit light.
"It was tough [in 2001], especially with an injury like that," Coleman said. "You can never really be at full-speed. And especially with me playing against guys who are so much bigger than I am I've got to have all my tools."
Is the joint healed? For now it's tough to tell.
"We haven't started doing anything right now," Coleman said. "We're running around with shorts on, no contact, anything like that. But my arm's strong, I feel pretty good, and I feel like I'll be ready to roll when it's time to strap it on and do it for real."
The only question then will be whether it's with the Redskins.
"It's up to the team," Coleman said. "There's things they might have to do. If I'm one of the ones they might have to do it with … right now, I don't know. I'm just here, like everybody else who's under contract."


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