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Injuries Keeping Taylor From Gaining His Edge

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Buffalo Bills were preoccupied with defensive end Jason Taylor. Their tackles each were penalized for false starts after he lined up opposite them early in a preseason game Aug. 9 at FedEx Field. In his Washington Redskins debut, Taylor had that quickly impressed.

"He lined up one time on one side, the guy jumped offsides there," Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo recalled the other day. "Then he lined up on the other side, the guy jumped offsides there. Obviously, he showed some skill and some quickness. You had to be excited."

The Redskins still are excited about Taylor's potential impact, coaches and players said this week, but things have not developed as Taylor or the team hoped. In a little more than two months with the Redskins, Taylor, acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins in late July, has sprained his right knee in a preseason game and seriously injured his left calf.

Taylor underwent emergency surgery after his most recent injury -- a procedure that saved his career but ended his streak at 133 consecutive regular season starts -- and is scheduled to have his calf drained again Monday because it has healed slowly. Since joining the Redskins, Taylor, 34, has rarely resembled the all-pro performer and former NFL defensive player of the year for whom they dealt a second-round pick in 2009 and sixth-round pick in 2010, and who is owed $8 million this season and $8.5 million next season.

Washington's defense, despite its overall success, has not pressured quarterbacks as consistently as coaches envisioned after adding one of the NFL's most accomplished edge rushers.

Taylor came back before his calf healed, and there is no time frame for a complete recovery, a team medical official said recently. Taylor plans to continue playing through the pain in an effort to contribute, and the Redskins are optimistic he can revert to form at some point this season.

"You're always hopeful about that," Palermo said. "He's working on it, and he's trying to get there. Unfortunately for him, he tries hard and fights through injuries and everything else, but he may not be back to where he wants to be. It's hard to guesstimate, I guess, on that, simply because he is a year older.

"He feels that he'll get himself back into the mix where he's making more plays, and I certainly do. I do see some suddenness in him at times. He was a little more sudden this week than the week before. And as long as he can continue to improve and get better, and his leg feels good, I don't see any reason why he can't start making more plays."

But first, Taylor must return to the operating table. He initially underwent surgery Sept. 22 to relieve acute compartment syndrome after he was inadvertently kicked in the calf a day earlier in a 24-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

In the lower leg, there are four bundles in the muscles, and the muscles are each surrounded by a thick tissue called fascia. If blood from muscles drains into the fascia, there is no outlet, creating pressure on that muscle group and causing swelling. Compartment syndrome can result in permanent damage to the muscles and nerves. Without treatment, paresis (slight or partial paralysis), loss of limbs or even death can occur.

When the injury occurred, Taylor was not worried. He planned to participate in practice that week as Washington prepared to face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium, but Taylor wound up at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Redskins orthopedist Chris Annunziata performed a 20-minute procedure on Taylor's calf, making a six-inch incision on the outside of the calf to relieve pressure. Taylor sat out victories in Dallas and Philadelphia and returned Oct. 12.

Taylor, who missed practice yesterday, is expected to play tomorrow as the Redskins (5-2) face the Detroit Lions (0-6) at Ford Field. He underwent tests Thursday to determine if an infection could be contributing to his lack of progress, but "there's no infection," Coach Jim Zorn said. "That was the thing we were looking for, but things are just healing slowly.

"He's putting so much work in on the field, we can't get the thing healed right. What we're going to do on Monday is a very small lance to make sure it's draining properly, making sure it's not going to create that compartment syndrome again, but I don't see him slowing down. I just see him continuing to improve. It is a minor procedure. It's very minor."

It is unclear whether Taylor will miss the Nov. 3 game against Pittsburgh. "I'm going to the hospital now to find out what we're going to do," he said late yesterday afternoon. "The only thing I'm really focusing in on right now is hopefully playing in the game on Sunday and trying to help this team beat the Lions. The rest of it doesn't really matter right now. I've been hurt for a month, and it hasn't changed."

Taylor has played in five of Washington's seven games, starting four. He has been credited with 11 tackles, including seven unassisted, and only one sack. In his first 11 seasons, Taylor had 117 sacks, and his production drop "bothers me," he said. "I feel bad more so for my teammates than I do for myself. Being hurt's no fun, and everybody in this locker room, I'm sure, has dealt with it in some way at some point of their career."

Taylor has had little experience with being sidelined because of injuries -- before this season, he last missed a game in 1999. He played in the season-opening loss to the New York Giants after he sprained his right knee Aug. 23 in a preseason game against Carolina. Fitted with a protective cast on his left leg last week, Taylor was credited with no tackles, but deflected two passes, in a 14-11 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

"Every week it gets better, particularly after the game," Taylor said earlier in the week. "I got the stitches out finally. It's still bleeding a little bit, but it does feel better. It's swollen . . . but every day's a new one and we're trying to take positive steps."

Taylor has noticed progress in his ability to run "straight ahead, but turning the corner has been hard," he said. "There were a couple of plays [against Cleveland] where I beat the tackle and had a chance to turn the corner a little bit and get a hit on the quarterback and I couldn't do it. You can't play this game in a straight line.

"Pretty much, everything hurts, but it's football, that's injuries and it's going to hurt. It's one of those things where if I wasn't playing football, it would probably heal in a month. But we are playing football every day. As you're pounding it, you're not allowing it to heal the way God really intended for it to heal."

In addition, Taylor has experienced the first position change of his NFL career, having started at right end until this season. "Going from the right side to the left side, that's an adjustment, too," middle linebacker London Fletcher said.

Also, the Redskins' 4-3 defensive scheme mandates that players exercise discipline in executing assignments. Washington's approach does not allow for the type of freedom Taylor, who at times operated as a de facto outside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 alignments, had with the Dolphins. In fact, since Taylor left Miami, linebacker Joey Porter has been outstanding as the team's top edge rusher from his weak-side linebacker position, and is tied for second in the league with 8 1/2 sacks.

"We play maybe a little bit more disciplined style of defense" than Taylor was familiar with, Palermo said. "But he's been good. He's tried to do the things we've asked him to. One on one with the tight end [on running plays], he was real physical the last game and did a good job. He's 240 pounds, so when he gets all the way down inside it's more difficult for him, but I thought he did a real good job holding the edge."

The Redskins traded for Taylor on July 20, hours after losing starting left end Phillip Daniels to a season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp. In Taylor, who was engaged in a public spat with the Dolphins after skipping offseason workouts to participate on "Dancing With the Stars," Washington suddenly had one of the league's elite sack specialists and premier athletes.

With starting right end Andre Carter coming off a 10 1/2 -sack season, defensive coordinator Greg Blache figured Washington's edge-rushing tandem would be among the best in the league and significantly boost the team's sack total. The Redskins are tied for 27th in the league with only nine sacks. The Pittsburgh Steelers, with one fewer game than the Redskins, are atop the NFL with 25 sacks.

But opponents are averaging 278.7 yards total offense against the Redskins, the sixth-lowest total in the league, even with little help from Taylor.

"The great thing about it is the team's winning, and it's kind of given me a little reprieve," Taylor said. "Although I'm not helping them a whole lot, they are winning, and that's a great thing because this is a good football team with or without me."

Redskins Notes: Clinton Portis participated fully in practice yesterday, Zorn said. "He's getting better and better," Zorn said. "He did everything. He didn't do it at full speed, but he's been getting all the work done." . . . Chris Samuels was excused from practice for personal reasons. . . . Shawn Springs (calf) sat out practice all week and is not expected to play. "He's going to go on the trip," Zorn said. "He's one guy who's really not going to play." . . . LaRon Landry (hamstring) sat out practice as a precaution.

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