- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Laveranues Coles has led the way from his very first practice as a Washington Redskin.

On that day in early May, Coles was setting the standard in minicamp drills. He showed his fellow wide receivers how to make the crisp slant in and catch the ball. How to dust the cornerback on an inside move. How to match up with Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey. How to see the lane. How to find a soft spot in the deep zone.

And that was just for starters. Since then, Coles has done nothing but be a true professional for the Redskins. In limited preseason action, he has three catches for 112 yards — each reception going for at least 29 yards. More importantly, in practice and the classroom, he has given full effort all the time.

“His just showing up to practice every day makes our receivers group a better group,” receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said yesterday. “He works harder than anybody I’ve ever been around — pays attention in meetings, asking questions. He’s a very serious young man. He comes to work.”

Coles expects to do no less. Although he jumped from the New York Jets to the Redskins this offseason on a blockbuster seven-year, $35million contract, in his mind he’s still a worker bee.

“They pay me to come in here and do a job,” Coles said. “Whatever they ask of me, that’s what I’ll do. Basically, we’re playing chess, and I’m one of the pieces. You can use me however you want to use me.”

His performance and demeanor have begun to justify his $13million signing bonus. Fresh off a season that made him a star — 89 receptions (second in Jets history) for 1,264 yards (fourth) — Coles still hadn’t won over a number of people who deal with NFL personnel. They questioned whether he could be a true No.1 wide receiver.

Sure, Coles is blazing fast. He packs a lot of power in his 5-foot-11, 193-pound frame. And he’s productive. But a real No.1 forces NFL defenses to game plan around him. He commands double-teams and still makes plays.

Such questions, of course, will remain when the Redskins open the season against the Jets on Sept.4. But for now, Coles has shown that he works, thinks and carries himself like a No.1 target. In the mind of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Coles is simply a “pro.”

“I think what a pro is, is a guy who understands his role, understands what his contribution to the team is, a guy who comes to work in the a.m. with the attitude of getting better,” Jackson said. “A guy who walks in the classroom and says, ‘Coach, coach me. Help me become a better player.’ The guy who comes out on the practice field, when it’s hot, and when you’ve been running all day, he’s ready to run another ‘9’ route, another ‘go’ route.

“It just doesn’t matter what we’ve asked of him. He’s responded, and he’s done it.”

That makes an even greater difference with this receiving corps. Rod Gardner leads Washington’s other receivers with 31 NFL starts (Coles has 32), and Patrick Johnson has the most NFL seasons of any Redskins wideout with five. But Gardner remains more of a complementary player at this point, and Johnson is battling for a spot on the final roster.

In short, this is an inexperienced group that needs all the leadership it can get. And Coles gives it.

“Anytime a guy comes out to practice every day, like he has,” Jackson said, “and he’s one of the ‘star’ players of your team, and he doesn’t miss a practice, doesn’t miss a rep, wants to take every rep, wants to know everything about everything that’s going on, it can’t help but lift the other receivers and convince them, ‘That’s the way I should be.’”

This isn’t to say Coles has been perfect. He doesn’t always get the precise routes in coach Steve Spurrier’s offense, and his chemistry with quarterback Patrick Ramsey is still developing.

Career-wise, though, Coles is all about patience. His high-profile signing this offseason validated his status in the NFL, after off-field incidents at Florida State dropped him into 2000’s third round. Now he is focused on staying power.

“Coaches want to play guys who play hard in practice, who give 110 percent every time they get an opportunity,” Coles said. “That’s what separates the guys who stick around three or four years, and the guy who’s around eight to 15 years.”

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