- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Critics point to the number one — as in the number of sacks by the Washington Redskins’ four starting defensive linemen.

The linemen prefer to see the numbers two and three — for the number of steps opposing quarterbacks are dropping back before getting rid of the ball.

The debate is simmering over Washington’s pass rush and whether the front four are generating enough pressure. Although some players privately concede the rush is lacking, veteran ends Renaldo Wynn and Bruce Smith say an evaluation of game tape shows they’re getting their jobs done.

“You guys don’t see it, but guys are beating guys one-on-one,” Wynn said this week. “But they’re getting rid of the ball pretty fast back there. It’s been three games in a row where it’s been three-step drops.”

Said Smith: “Renaldo hit it on the head, and it’s the same thing I’ve been preaching to you guys for some time now: Anyone who’s a student of the game can sit here and realize … that opponents are making sure the ball is out of their hands.”

Wynn and Smith’s argument made sense after the first two games, Redskins victories that left the defense ranked second in the NFL. But in Sunday’s loss, the New York Giants racked up 399 yards, including 270 net passing yards, to drop Washington’s defense to No.8.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins might have been attempting a lot of short passes, but he had enough time to hit wide receiver Amani Toomer for a 54-yard touchdown and complete a 19-yard throw to receiver Ike Hilliard and tosses of 16, 22 and 14 yards to tight end Jeremy Shockey. And he was sacked once.

“The other guys get paid, too,” said Peppi Zellner, an interior rusher on passing downs. “They’re not going to give up 10 sacks every week. I just think we need to dig deep inside ourselves to get more sacks, improve our defense and go to the playoffs.”

Smith noted that the departures of defensive tackles Daryl Gardener and Dan Wilkinson have made it more difficult to get to the passer.

“I’m not knocking anyone that we have now,” Smith said. “But when you lose two guys in Daryl Gardener and Big Daddy, who are very capable of putting pressure right up the middle, that becomes a factor.”

And it’s true that Washington gets little if any rush from its current defensive tackles. After a hectic offseason on the interior line, the Redskins are lucky they have a couple of guys in Jermaine Haley and Bernard Holsey who can stop the run.

Coaches hoped Haley, signed from Miami to be the No.3 tackle, would incorporate some pressure with a more prominent role in Washington. But he missed the second game with a fractured thumb and now is playing with a bulky cast.

“Hopefully, I can just stay healthy so I can get in the rotation with those guys as far as rushing the passer,” Haley said.

Holsey, meanwhile, is a modest player doing well just to hold his ground. Pass-rushing defensive tackles are at a premium in the NFL; they’re not free agents off the street a week before training camp opens.

Still, Holsey said, “I need to have a better pass rush. I’m trying to work on it. It was a little better than last week at Atlanta, but I still need a lot of improvement.”

Washington’s five sacks so far have gone to linebackers Jessie Armstead (two) and LaVar Arrington (one), Zellner (one) and Wynn and Smith (who combined for one in the opener).

Conspicuously absent is defensive end Regan Upshaw, who said Monday that he’s angry with himself for not being more productive. Upshaw signed a five-year, $7.5million contract to be the starting right end, but he lost the job to Smith. His major role is left end on passing downs, and he has just one tackle.

“I can’t comment on [the overall pass rush],” Upshaw said. “I’ve just got to comment on myself. And I’ve got to get better at the position I’m at.”

Upcoming games, starting with Sunday’s against New England, will settle the debate. Smith, at 40 just 21/2 sacks shy of Reggie White’s career record, is all too familiar with talk of his and Washington’s declining pass rush. He is confident the ultimate results will be there.

“We’ll get it done,” Smith said. “It seems like we have this conversation every year now over the last four years. Yeah, we’ll get the job done.”

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