- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

The prospect of another season opener leaves Phillip Daniels as excited as any of his rookie teammates on the Washington Redskins’ roster.

The veteran defensive end will make the 12th opening day start of his career when the Redskins face the Giants at the Meadowlands on Sunday.

This one holds special meaning: Daniels tore two ligaments in his left knee on the first snap of training camp last year and missed the entire season.

“There were more emotions for [the preseason opener at] Baltimore because that was the first time I got on the field, but the excitement for that first game is there,” Daniels said. “It’s an opportunity to let everybody around the league see what I can do.”

Added coach Jim Zorn: “He worked so hard to get back. He really stayed committed last year. He was at almost every game, home and away. I hope that he can go the whole year and have the greatest year of his life.”

Daniels, 36, played in all four preseason games and missed only one day of practice to have fluid drained from his knee. He is confident his repaired joint will withstand the rigors of a full regular-season game.

“I don’t even think about it no more,” said Daniels, who resumed his world-class weightlifting regimen once the rehabilitation process was complete. “I couldn’t ask for it to feel any better. Overall, my whole body feels better because of all the work I had to do to get back. I feel so much stronger.”

Daniels strengthens a run defense that ranked eighth last year but allowed the Brandon Jacobs-led Giants to rush for a total of 262 yards in a pair of victories over the Redskins.

“They ran to the tight end side a lot last year, so hopefully I can make a difference,” Daniels said.

Everyone works again

All 53 players practiced Friday for a third straight day, a rare occurrence in the NFL.

With only two quarterbacks on the roster, Zorn must deactivate eight players Sunday instead of the usual seven - a pleasant problem to have, he said.

“It’s going to make it difficult to choose the right group,” said Zorn, who plans to use Devin Thomas alongside Rock Cartwright on kickoff returns. “This is the first time I’ve ever been involved, I think, on any team [where] we can choose, which is nice.”

Zorn hopes kickoff duty will fire up the nonchalant Thomas, a second-year receiver who didn’t react fiercely to losing out on a starting job to the less-experienced Malcolm Kelly.

“Maybe somebody’s just got to smack him on the sideline, something to get him fired up,” Zorn said. “I don’t want a guy… to kind of hold us hostage: ‘Well, you didn’t put me in on the kickoff, so that’s why I didn’t play well.’ That doesn’t make any sense. Getting hit gets anybody into the game.”

Thomas declined to comment.

Skolnitsky sticks around

Defensive end J.D. Skolnitsky, who grew up in Fairfax and attended James Madison, got a spot on the practice squad, joining running back Marcus Mason and cornerback Byron Westbrook as local players with the Redskins.

Skolnitsky’s road to a Redskins jersey was surprising: He was invited to minicamp on a tryout basis, missed a week early in camp with a hamstring injury and drew the wrath of line coach John Palermo for poor technique.

Skolnitsky went out with free agent lineman Antonio Dixon and rookie free agent quarterback Chase Daniel the night before cuts to take their minds off the next day’s events. All three players were let go but still are working in the NFL.

Dixon was claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New Orleans Saints signed Daniel to their practice squad.

Then Skolnitsky got a job of his own.

“I had gone down to JMU to see my girlfriend when I got a call from my agent and then one from [Redskins director of pro personnel Morocco Brown] telling me to come back to sign my papers,” said Skolnitsky, who seemingly hasn’t stopped smiling since.

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