- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

Washington Redskins assistant head coach Gregg Williams doesn’t need to put on game film to prod a member of his defense to play through pain. Williams just points to left tackle Brandon Noble.

“Brandon is the epitome of toughness,” Williams said. “I’ve used his name several times when guys thought they had an ‘owie.’ I tell them, ‘Go to Brandon for sympathy. If Brandon gives you sympathy, I’ll give you sympathy.’”

After suffering a season-ending and career-threatening injury to his left knee in the 2003 preseason opener that left 19-year veteran Bruce Smith stunned and fellow defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn queasy, Noble hasn’t missed a game this season.

“After the surgery, I felt confident that I would be able to come back,” Noble said. “I’ve always been the kind of person that when somebody tells me I can’t do it, I’ll go out and do my [best] to prove them wrong. I’m pretty hard-headed, and I’m willing to work hard. That’s how I got here in the first place.”

Undrafted out of Penn State in 1997, Noble signed with San Francisco but was released during training camp. The 49ers signed him to the practice squad for a week in November and then cut him again. Noble played well for Barcelona of NFL Europe the following spring but was cut by the 49ers at the end of camp. Again, he returned to the practice squad, this time for the final four weeks before being waived.

Noble went back to Barcelona in 1999 and helped the Dragons win the championship before signing with Dallas. He made the team and by midseason in 2000, he was a reliable starter on a talented Cowboys defense — a position he maintained until he signed with the Redskins as a free agent March1, 2003.

At that point, Noble had a big contract and was closer to his native Virginia Beach. But then came the knee injury.

Noble had to learn to walk again, run again and play football again. He pushed himself in the training room and the weight room harder than he ever had shoved a blocker to get to the ball. By the third minicamp this spring, the 30-year-old was back to playing full time.

“Brandon was in here rehabbing every day,” Wynn said. “Coaches would tell him to take a day off to rest, and he wouldn’t do it. If I have an injury, I look at Brandon, and I know I have to play.”

An overgrown fireplug at 6-foot-2 and 304 pounds, Noble concedes his strength isn’t what it was before he tore three ligaments and dislocated his kneecap when Smith and two New England linemen fell on him but knows that will improve. In the meantime, he has been effective enough to contribute 31 tackles to the NFC’s best run defense. And coincidence or not, Washington is 4-1 when Noble starts and 1-8 when he doesn’t.

While honored to be the Redskins nominee for the Ed Block Award given to the NFL’s most courageous player, Noble doesn’t make a fuss over his comeback. He’s just a guy doing what he loves to do.

“I don’t like to say I’m an inspiration,” Noble said. “[But] if someone can learn something from what I went through, that’s cool.”

This weekend is going to be especially cool for Noble. Last Christmas, he had been off crutches for only a month, still had a bad limp and wasn’t sure whether he would play again. Today he’s healthy. And tomorrow, he will play his first game in Texas Stadium since leaving the Cowboys for the Redskins as a free agent.

“I have no animosity against Dallas,” Noble said. “Leaving Dallas for Washington was a business decision. It will be nice to run back on that field, no question about it. That’s where my career really started. I had a lot of good times down there. I got married there. My son was born there. It will be a special game because I haven’t played those guys down there — and hopefully beat them.”

Notes — Miami signed linebacker Billy Strother off Washington’s practice squad. Strother was replaced by cornerback Korey Banks, who was on the Dolphins’ practice squad in 2003. Banks, like fellow Redskins corners Fred Smoot and Walt Harris, played at Mississippi State. … After practice, coach Joe Gibbs’ assistants gave him a Christmas gift of a motorboat to use at his new beach house.

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