- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

The NFL’s most dynamic tight end rips balls out of the air, sprints like a wideout, tramples safeties and captivates the New York media with his brash persona.

Oh yeah, and he gives the Washington Redskins fits.

This weekend the Redskins will try yet again to shut down New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, the two-time Pro Bowl pick who has 21 catches for 265 yards in three career meetings with Washington. To date, the only thing that has contained him in a Redskins game was a knee sprain that sidelined him for last season’s second meeting.

“Everyone’s going to have their hands full — let’s put it that way,” safety Matt Bowen said yesterday. “There’s not going to be a single player who has an easy day with Jeremy Shockey.”

Spicing up Sunday’s matchup at Giants Stadium are the new faces the Redskins have on defense, particularly strongside linebacker Marcus Washington and rookie safety Sean Taylor, Shockey’s former University of Miami teammate. In addition, Bowen should play a big role in the matchup, having moved from free to strong safety.

Notably less prevalent is linebacker LaVar Arrington, who now mans the weak side. Not that Arrington won’t cross paths with Shockey, but his move from the strong side (where he played from 2000 to 2003) puts him on the opposite side of the field from the tight end.

“I love to compete,” Arrington said. “If they want to put me over there, they can put me over there. But Marcus is more than capable of holding down that area. We’re all going to have to compete to deal with him. He’s going to make his presence felt on the field. I know that. He always seems to get up for the Redskins.”

Indeed he does. Shockey, the 14th overall pick in the 2002 draft, burst into the series with 11 catches for 111 yards, leading the Giants to a 19-17 victory on Nov.17, 2002. He followed that with five receptions for 89 yards in another 2002 win, then added five catches for 65 yards in a Week3 win last season.

It wasn’t until Shockey sat out the last seven games of 2003 that the Redskins, 2-10 in NFC East play the past two seasons, finally swiped a victory in the series.

“He always has big games against us,” Bowen said. “And he makes tough catches. Sometimes he has guys all over him, and he comes down with the ball. He’s got that wide receiver mentality. But he’s not. He’s bigger and stronger than wide receivers.”

It is that mix of talents that makes Shockey such a headline player. Mentioned in the same breath only with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tony Gonzalez and perhaps now the Cleveland Browns’ Kellen Winslow II, Shockey further distinguishes himself with long blond hair and controversial comments, such as calling Bill Parcells a “homo” in 2003.

This season, however, he is not off to a great start. In last weekend’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Shockey caught just two passes for 39 yards, perhaps setting up a breakout game this weekend.

“No.80 on this football team will get better, and it will happen quickly,” he told reporters after the game.

This could be a new era, though, in the Redskins’ defense of tight ends. A frequent problem area in recent years, tight end coverage now might be an asset with Washington lining up over the opponent’s tight end.

In last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there clearly was a difference. The Bucs killed the Redskins with tight end play in 2003, when a trio of touchdown passes went to such players in a Tampa Bay win. But on two of three catches by Bucs starter Ken Dilger last weekend, Washington immediately steamrolled him and limited him to meaningless gains.

The only error came in the third quarter, when Ricky Dudley caught Bowen a few steps out of position and gained 24 yards. But the Redskins quickly clamped down en route to a powerful finish, and the team’s defense enters this weekend ranked No.1 in the NFL.

Asked what has changed in tight end play from the 2003 Bucs game to the 2004 Bucs game, assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams replied, “To be quite honest, a couple guys are better matchups this year.”

Another of those guys likely is Taylor, who at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds has the unique speed and size to hang with his former teammate. The only problem is that Taylor’s participation remains truncated. After a spectacular preseason, Taylor was demoted in the opener after he began to take preparation a bit too lightly. A club source said yesterday that Andre Lott continues to work ahead of Taylor in the base defense.

In any case, if the Redskins finally are to shut down their shaggy, outspoken nemesis, it will have to come as a team.

“It depends on the call,” Williams said. “There are so many different people who could be in that situation. It [depends on the Giants], what people they bring on the field and what they do in protections.”


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