- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

A season that started with myriad questions about Daryl Gardener has come down to just two:
Will he make the Pro Bowl?
Will the Washington Redskins re-sign him?
Otherwise, the towering defensive tackle has cleared up the issues that accompanied him to Redskins training camp in early August. Questions about his personality, commitment and bad back seemingly are in the past. Gardener has established himself as one of the Redskins' premier defensive players and a candidate for end-of-year honors.
"He's whipped everybody he's faced," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said yesterday. "He demands double-teams; he whips double-teams. He's playing better than anybody in the league right now."
Said linebacker LaVar Arrington: "I don't know if there's a defensive tackle in the league that runs like him."
Added defensive end Bruce Smith: "Unfortunately, I can't vote for him; that's up to the other teams. But I think he's having an outstanding year."
Trotter, Arrington and Smith are all Pro Bowl players themselves, and each realizes how significant Gardener's impact has been. Although he has just two sacks (often a major component of Pro Bowl votes), he leads Redskins defensive linemen in tackles (his 49 are 19 more than second-place Renaldo Wynn) and his push in the middle consistently creates plays for others.
Last weekend Gardener turned in another big-time effort in the victory over St. Louis. His second-quarter pressure of Kurt Warner forced an easy interception that ended a drive into the red zone, and he was deep enough in the backfield on Arrington's game-saving sack to recover Warner's fumble.
In short, Gardener has been everything owner Dan Snyder envisioned when he pressed for the signing last summer against the urge of others in the Redskins' front office.
Now the club must decide what to do about Gardener's future. He signed a one-year, $775,000 contract laden with incentives after being cut in July by Miami. Denver offered slightly more money, but Gardener liked Washington because he saw the chance for a long-term stay.
He still is waiting for the Redskins to begin negotiating an extension, but time is on his side with each passing week, his attitude and production improve, coaches say and he gets a step closer to the salary boost that accompanies the open market.
At this point, Gardener seems to have joined the ranks of running back Stephen Davis and right tackle Jon Jansen, two standouts with uncertain futures in Washington. The club, which has been undergoing a power shift in the front office, has made a below-market-value offer to Jansen, which he rejected, and done nothing with regard to Davis or Gardener.
That said, some within the organization say that the questions that made Gardener available last summer remain factors in his future. Can his back remain healthy? Will his attitude, which was a bit spotty early on in Washington, stay consistent? Those are two issues the club must resolve before making Gardener a financial centerpiece of its defense.
In the meantime, Redskins coaches are excited to have at least five more games to tap his unique talents and enthusiasm.
"He has a natural ability to be in position to make a lot of plays, but he has that arrogance, that swagger, that you need to be effective," defensive line coach Ricky Hunley said. "And he likes football. He has fun when he's playing. It's been a real treat to have a guy who enjoys football as much as he does."
Hunley has been impressed with Gardener's commitment, noting that the player often comes to Redskin Park at 5 a.m. to do his lifting and that he consistently goes extra lengths to ensure that his back doesn't flare up.
And the line coach, who had a seven-year NFL career himself, added of Gardener's play: "If Daryl Gardener's not a Pro Bowler, I don't know who is."
Gardener, for his part, didn't want to comment on possibly receiving the NFL's signature honor for the first time, declining several interview requests. Last night, through agent Neil Schwartz, he said, "It's not up to me whether I make the Pro Bowl or not."
If Gardener's play has to speak for itself, that might be enough. And in any case, there's plenty of credit coming from within the organization.
"A lot of guys go to the Pro Bowl who don't necessarily play at a Pro Bowl level," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "Daryl's done an excellent job, played great. He's a big, physical guy. He's got obviously a lot of physical talent. He really gets excited and accepts the challenge on Sunday, and that's what you've got to have players do."


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