- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Cornelius Griffin isn’t big on stats.

The Washington Redskins defensive tackle prefers just to talk about wins and losses. Still, it is tough even for Griffin to ignore this statistic: 1-5.

That figure represents the Redskins’ record over the past two seasons when Griffin did not play or barely played because of injury.

Then there are these numbers: The Redskins last season allowed 97 rushing yards a game when Griffin was a regular, 120 when he wasn’t. They surrendered 126 yards on the ground in the one game he missed in 2004, and an average of just 79 when he was in the lineup. The same season Griffin led the NFL with 15 tackles for loss, which caused many around the league to believe he should’ve been chosen for the Pro Bowl.

In short, the 29-year-old Griffin has yet to make the Pro Bowl, but he makes the Redskins’ run defense.

“Griff makes a big difference,” said middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, who’s usually in position to make the tackle after Griffin and nose tackle Joe Salave’a win their battles up front.

Indeed, Griffin missed about a third of last season because of a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, and Salave’a was bothered half the season by a foot injury. A year after ranking second in the league in run defense, the Redskins last season sank to 13th in the league.

Griffin missed as much time last year as he did in his first five seasons combined.

“Rushing yards were up, but we won more games,” Griffin said. “I’m not big on stats. I want the W’s. I want that [Super Bowl] ring on my finger before I retire. The stats don’t say who was hurt and who wasn’t. It hurts bad sitting on the sidelines because your brothers are going through something and you can’t do anything about it. But if me and Joe are in or not, it’s still the Washington Redskins.

“We have to play better. No one stuck the ball down our throat last year. We did it to ourselves with mistakes. We’ve got to play better this year.”

In the process, there is one number Griffin wants to reach. Even after the Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only NFC defenses to rank in the league’s top 10 each of the past two seasons, Griffin is aiming higher.

“We want to be the No. 1 defense,” Griffin said. “We’re not trying to sneak up on anybody. We’re going to hit [offenses] in the mouth from the first play. We know we’re good, and we’re going to beat you. But we’ve got to work every day. You can’t put hard work on a credit card or on a layaway plan. You have to work every day and then go out and perform.

“If we stay healthy, we’re going to be good.”

That’s always a big if. In Griffin’s case, it’s still a valid question.

Griffin couldn’t fully participate in the first month of the offseason conditioning program because he still was recovering from surgery. Even today, his right shoulder isn’t 100 percent.

Marshall, who had a similar operation a month earlier, keeps encouraging Griffin by telling him how much better his shoulder will feel in a month even though it’s going to be continuously banged around in the interim.

“I’m all right,” the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Alabaman said with a slight wince as he rubbed his shoulder. “It’s coming, but it’s not 100 percent. I notice it every day. This is the first real serious injury I’ve had in seven years, so I’ve just got to push through it and keep working.”

As if there was any doubt that Griffin will do just that.

Notes — Defensive end Nic Clemons (knee), defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery (hamstring) and safety Curry Burns (hamstring), all injured in Saturday’s scrimmage, are listed as day to day, as is defensive lineman Manaia Brown (groin).

Cornerback Carlos Rogers (back) and tight end Robert Johnson, who turned an ankle against the Ravens, could practice today.

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