Laveranues Coles had just given the Washington Redskins the lead against the Detroit Lions last month, grabbing his first touchdown pass of the season. But he did not celebrate. Coles headed back to the sideline with his head down and even on this, the rarest of victorious Sundays for the Redskins, his body language connoted nothing but frustration.
Coles, like every prominent member of Washington's offense, is having a quiet season, and the 26-year-old wide receiver prefers to deal with the difficult situation in precisely that manner. He has never complained about the problems at the quarterback position, the scaled back attack or the draining injuries that seem to follow him around. Coles, in fact, has not spoken to the media at all in weeks.
Laveranues Coles, like all of Washington's offensive players, is having a frustrating season. Also slowed by injuries, Coles has not complained about the troubles on offense.
(Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
The Redskins signed Coles from the New York Jets prior to the 2003 season to spread defenses in former coach Steve Spurrier's pass-happy system, and while he is on pace for another 80-plus catch campaign he has had few, if any, true highlight-reel receptions this season and failed to latch on to deep balls.
"Laveranues has been through a tough time this year with his toe and with his hand [injuries]," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "I think it's been difficult for him, but he's been out there every single day and I think that's a good example, that's the kind of thing you find out about players. But it's not been easy for him."
Coles came into training camp gingerly, hoping that a lingering toe problem would improve with rest during the offseason. The training staff employs an insert in his cleats to alleviate discomfort, but Coles has not been 100 percent all season. In the third game of the season against Dallas, Coles dislocated the middle finger on his right hand, grimaced in pain on the sideline and then popped the finger back in place, missing only one series before returning. He also was crunched by Cowboys safety Roy Williams twice, suffering a mild concussion, and his finger has been a problem ever since, with the normally sure-handed receiver dropping passes with regularity for the 3-8 team.
Sunday in Pittsburgh the pain mounted. Coles, hardly among the bigger wideouts in the game at 5 feet 11 and 193 pounds, plays fearlessly, leaping in the air on routes that take him across the middle of the field and into the heart of the secondary. In the first quarter he was crunched and landed hard on his hip. He was hit again later in the game in the same spot, suffering a bad charley horse. Coles will take all of those injuries into Sunday's game against the New York Giants despite the relative insignificance of the contest.
"We don't want a guy in there unless he feels like he can go," Gibbs said. "I leave that totally up to Laveranues and the trainers and [Sunday] it was hard to keep him out of there. He gets a hip [injury], and man he wants to play. You have to admire that about him. I kind of go off we're trying to win and scrap every week and he wants to be a part of it and he was firing it up."
Coles's effort and dedication have been largely wasted this season, however, as he takes a beating each week but rarely affects the outcome of games. In the first half of the season, with Mark Brunell starting at quarterback, many throws were erratic. Sometimes the receivers could not get open but many NFL executives said Brunell no longer possessed the arm strength to throw deep down the sidelines, where Coles can be effective. In many games, Coles has been virtually invisible, a role he is not used to.
"He's a fierce competitor," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. "The guy really wants the ball and he wants an opportunity to make a difference in the game, and I think that's evident by the fact he's still in there with the injuries he's had."
Coles surpassed 1,200 receiving yards each of the past two seasons but is on pace to fall short of 1,000 this season; last season he had seven games over 85 yards and caught a pass of 30 or more yards in seven contests; this season he has reached 85 yards only twice and caught a 30-yard pass or longer in only one game. Coles has not caught a touchdown pass from a quarterback all season; his lone score, in Detroit, came from Clinton Portis on a halfback option play.
"It's been a strange year all the way around," said Rod Gardner, the No. 2 receiver. "I know he'd like more balls, but who don't? It's been downhill for everybody in the offense, period, from Clinton to the quarterbacks to the receivers. It's been a struggle."
Bubba Tyer, the teams' director of sports medicine, said it will likely take rest in the offseason for Coles's finger to heal fully. The toe condition is chronic however, and while it is not as severe as it was last season, when Coles was in the training room and missing practice week after week, it could require surgery, Tyer said. Without the aid of a $1,000, custom-made orthotic, Coles might not be able to even get on the field, and at one point the trainers were panicking when it appeared someone had mistakenly thrown it out when cleaning the receiver's locker. "Thank God, we found it," Tyer said.
Coles will visit a specialist after the final game to determine what course of action is needed with his toe. Meantime, all expect him to play through the pain again this Sunday, trying to run with a sore toe and hip and catch balls with a sore finger.
"As tough as he is," Tyer said, "I'm sure he'll play."