- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Vinny Cerrato stood in the bowels of the Georgia Dome, near the Washington Redskins team buses, late Sunday afternoon. The vice president of football operations was beaming, certainly because of his team’s just-completed victory over the Atlanta Falcons, but perhaps as much because of one player who was influential in making it happen.

“I guess they’re not going to say we spent too much money now,” Cerrato said.

There was no need to ask who he was talking about. That’s how good Laveranues Coles was in his first two games with the Redskins.

The free agent wide receiver has practically earned his entire $13million signing bonus in two weeks, first catching five passes for 106 yards in the season opener against the New York Jets, then coming back Sunday to post the most prolific day of his four-year NFL career: 11 receptions for 180 yards in the Redskins’ 33-31 win over Atlanta.

Suddenly, the whole package Washington ponied up for the restricted free agent — the seven-year, $35million contract, the franchise-record signing bonus, the first-round draft pick dealt to the Jets — doesn’t seem so steep. Certainly not for the current league-leader in receiving yards (286).

“You’re expected to do big things when you’re given a big payday,” Coles said after Sunday’s game.

The Redskins knew they were getting a top-of-the-line receiver when they signed the 25-year-old in March. Coles did, after all, catch 89 passes for 1,264 yards with the Jets last season.

What they couldn’t have known, at least not with any degree of certainty, was how quickly Coles would become the focal point of their offense.

It’s rare for a free-agent acquisition to have this much impact on his new team this soon. It usually takes months, or even a full season, for a newcomer to acclimate himself to the surroundings, learn a new system and develop chemistry with his teammates.

But seemingly from the moment he first donned a Redskins jersey at the team’s early-May minicamp, Coles has looked like a 10-year club veteran.

Lauded by teammates for his work ethic and humility, Coles was hesitant to toot his own horn during the early going, even after exacting some revenge against the Jets in the opener.

“I just wanted to come in and play,” he said yesterday. “However it turned out, it was fine. I’m blessed that I’ve had the opportunity for it to work out so well in the beginning. Hopefully it will continue to work well.”

Coles’ teammates and coaches, on the other hand, aren’t shy about dishing out compliments.

“Sensational,” coach Steve Spurrier called him.

“Incredibly special,” said quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

“Certainly he’s a big-play guy, and a guy we feel is going to get open and catch the ball,” Spurrier added yesterday. “The ball hits his hands and just sort of sticks. He’s a reliable receiver, there’s no question.”

Coles also proved to be a resilient receiver Sunday. He twice was knocked out of the game after getting hit making catches over the middle of the field. In each instance, he was back in the huddle within minutes, padding his already-impressive stats.

“I don’t ever give up,” Coles said. “That’s the mentality I bring. Whenever things don’t go as well, that’s when I want to step up and make something happen.”

Though some on the Redskins sideline were worried Coles had suffered a concussion, the training staff’s diagnosis was only a sprained neck. Coles did feel “a little woozy” the first time he went down, but he appeared to be fine yesterday and he isn’t expected to miss any practice time this week.

“I’m cool,” he said yesterday. “I’m walking, ain’t I?”

Coles’ performance on Sunday could earn him NFC Player of the Week honors. If he has his way, though, this latest game could be an afterthought before long.

“I’m not drawing the line here,” he said. “I want to get better. … This is just the beginning. There’s a long way to go. We’re going to keep working, and hopefully things will develop into something special.”

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