- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Perhaps the best evidence of the mutually beneficial relationship between Daryl Gardener and his fellow Washington Redskins defenders came in a comment he made this week.
"Put it this way," the defensive tackle said, "I feel more comfortable here than I did in Miami."
At any point in his six years there?
"At any point in my Miami career."
The chance of such symbiosis appeared unlikely back in Week2, when Gardener was sidelined by back spasms and the unit was struggling. But since then the defense has capitalized on his dynamic interior play and risen to the NFL's No.10 ranking. Now the Redskins' rapidly improving defense is the biggest reason they are positioned for a run at the playoffs.
"He makes things happen there's no ifs, ands or buts about it," linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "He's a big force. When you see him walk on the field, you know he's going to be a force."
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Gardener certainly cuts an imposing figure. But his back has undermined his potential dominance in recent years. As a Dolphin, he was one of the league's premier upfield tackles until he needed back surgeries in 2000 and 2001.
Now his back is healthy and he has peace of mind. Gardener believes he is more comfortable after a half-season in Washington than a half-dozen years in Miami because of the leadership on this defense or more precisely the depth of leadership.
"In Miami we had some guys, you could count them on one hand, who really wanted it," Gardener said. "But here, this defense, you can count every last one of these guys. Here, it could come from anybody. That's how good and how talented this group is."
The Redskins, of course, were good and talented when the season began. But they needed time to feel comfortable in the scheme of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The turnaround followed the Week4 open date, but more recently the chemistry between certain players particularly Gardener and right defensive end Bruce Smith has emerged.
Smith had his best game of the season last weekend at Seattle, recording two drive-ending sacks and otherwise playing "solid all the way through," according to defensive line coach Ricky Hunley. The assistant, while calling Smith's sacks "pure effort plays," acknowledged that the pair's chemistry makes them more dangerous.
"I think that it all comes with time," Hunley said. "Daryl has such range that he can cover for you and make things happen. And he's so explosive off the ball, so some of your twists [and other moves] work really well."
Covering for Smith was something Gardener had to adjust to. The future Hall of Fame end didn't become No.2 all time in sacks (now 189, nine short of Reggie White) without taking chances here and there. But coaches have worked to keep him from freelancing, showing him tape of sacks he might have picked up by holding his position.
"It all comes down to every player has to buy in," Hunley said of Smith. "They have to buy in 100 percent. You can't always say, 'I can improvise and make something happen.' No, just do your job and it will come to you."
Still, there are things to keep in mind when playing alongside Smith.
"Realizing that Bruce is going after that record," Gardener said. "Realizing that Bruce does some things I'm not going to give them away for other teams but he does some things that sometimes I have to go out there and cover him. And just the kind of player he is and the attitude and intensity he has, I know I have to match it."
Smith allowed that playing with Gardener "sometimes" leads to fewer double-teams, something he faced plenty of in his first two seasons in Washington.
"It just depends on how well they think that left offensive tackle might be able to play against me," Smith said. "Certainly I think with Daryl Gardener playing next to me, we're seeing a lot of slide protection [three offensive linemen on two defensive linemen].
"But I think that his ability to be able to run, his ability to be able to blow up the field and blow that gap up certainly commands respect from the opposing team. And it kind of gives me a little more freedom."
Gardener hopes his chemistry with Smith leads to a particularly dominating effort Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat his Dolphins 62-7 in a Jan. 15, 2000, AFC Divisional playoff game. The defensive tackle believes Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin targeted him in that game, and this week he said things like, "When I go down to J-ville, I'm not playing around with Coughlin."
So Gardener's intensity might peak for this game which would make for a pretty high peak. Last weekend he could be seen walking to each defensive teammate during a timeout and giving a head butt to get the player fired up for the coming series. On Sunday he could add even more of the leadership that is making him so comfortable in Washington.
"I'm realizing what we have going on," Gardener said. "I guess when the guys see me doing something like that, it gives them a sense of urgency. I don't know. Maybe it makes them feel I'm ready. I don't know. But all I know is this: When I give them that head butt, they know it's going down."

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