A Measured Mission; Davis Seeks to Be First Redskin to Rush for 1,000 Yards 3 Years in Row
By Ross Siler
Entering his sixth season with the Washington Redskins, running back Stephen Davis has a chance to do something that not even George Rogers, Larry Brown or John Riggins did in their Redskins careers. Yet what matters more to Davis is simply gaining one more yard, scoring one more touchdown and winning one more game than last year.
"I wasn't satisfied at all with the whole season," Davis said before the Redskins departed training camp in Carlisle, Pa., last week. "I want to have better numbers than I had last season, more touchdowns and definitely do better as a team."
Even though he ran for 1,318 yards, 11 touchdowns and made his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl, last season was a disappointment for Davis. The $100 million Redskins flopped on their way to finishing 8-8 and Davis's rushing numbers dipped slightly from the year before.
And he is determined to avoid the same thing from happening again this year. Davis, 27, has a chance to become the first Redskins rusher ever to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Five Redskins running backs have done it in back-to-back years before.
No Redskins running back has rushed for as many yards in a two-season stretch as Davis, who has totaled 2,723 yards (an average of 93 yards per game) and scored 28 touchdowns the past two years. Only three backs in the league -- Indianapolis's Edgerrin James, Tennessee's Eddie George and St. Louis's Marshall Faulk -- have gained more yards than Davis in the past two years.
He has emerged as one of the NFL's top backs and is aware of where another 1,000-yard season would leave him.
"That would be a great accomplishment, a great goal for myself," Davis said. "It would put me up with the elite."
In the Redskins' offseason overhaul, Davis watched as Washington lost guards Tre Johnson and Keith Sims, as well as fullback Mike Sellers. Those players cleared the way for Davis the past two seasons and were critical in his development.
As Davis went about training for this season, seeing the three players depart was difficult. "I was disappointed," he said. "But there were changes that got made and you really can't do anything about changes. You've just got to make the best out of what you've got."
In place of Johnson, Sims and Sellers, the Redskins have veterans Matt Campbell and Dave Szott, who didn't sign with Washington until last week, manning the guard spots. Free agent Donnell Bennett, signed from Kansas City in May, is expected to serve as fullback.
It has meant that throughout the preseason, Davis has been in the unexpected position of taking handoffs from inexperienced quarterbacks with a retooled offensive line blocking for him. At the same time, he has had to get used to running first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer's new plays.
"I think it will be more of a learning experience that someday will benefit me," Davis said. "But I don't think it will be harder this season."
Davis missed the Redskins' Friday night preseason game against the Cleveland Browns because he was called to testify in a court case. The week before, he sprained the three smallest toes in his left foot during a first-quarter run in Washington's loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Davis carried seven times for 25 yards in that game.
If Davis is to enjoy his third straight 1,000-yard season, he will need the Redskins' offensive line to adjust quickly to playing together. Backup guard Derrick Fletcher said he and Davis have talked several times since Fletcher joined the team, although he didn't know about the record that Davis could set this season.
"We try to move on with what we have," Fletcher said. "And we're going to be out there trying to get him that thousand. No matter who's out there on the field."
There's also the adjustment Davis has had to make to Schottenheimer's new system. He carried the ball an average of 21.4 times per game the past two seasons, but that figure should increase to at least 25 carries a game under Schottenheimer. Davis also will catch passes out of the backfield in the team's West Coast offense.
Backup running back Ki-Jana Carter, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, said Davis has commented sometimes to him about the differences in plays that Schottenheimer has employed versus the ones used by former coach Norv Turner. "He'll say, 'We didn't run this play last year,' " Carter said. "But not in a bad tone or anything."
In the years that Schottenheimer coached with the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, he tutored some of the league's best running backs, including Earnest Byner (who came up two yards short in 1992 of a third-straight 1,000-yard season for the Redskins), Christian Okoye and Marcus Allen. And Schottenheimer said Davis rates among them all in his abilities.
"He ranks right up there," Schottenheimer said. "He is right there in that elite group in my view." It has been 10 years, however, since Schottenheimer last had a back run for 1,000 yards, when Okoye finished with 1,031 yards in 1991.
From Carter's perspective, the prospect of being paired in the backfield with Davis is exciting. Carter said he thought he and Davis could play together on third down in an attempt to deceive defenses. Carter has earned praise from Schottenheimer for his play of late and ran for a 28-yard touchdown in the loss to Atlanta.
"We can definitely both take it to the house," Carter said. "We have different styles of running. He's more of a power back; I'm more of a shifty guy. But we both have speed and it would be nice to see us both in there."
In the offseason, Davis split his time between his homes in Northern Virginia and South Carolina, working out and spending time with his family. The hairline fracture in his right forearm that kept him out of one game and limited his effectiveness in three others has healed.
He also spent a week at Disney World with his family, tailing his four children around in the amusement park, and getting a taste for what it must be like for opposing defenses trying to keep track of him. "It was tiring," Davis said. "We went on every ride in every park. We must have walked around for 12 hours a day."
Now Davis is spending the end of the preseason focused on getting everybody -- linemen, fullbacks, coaches and himself -- to work together. That will be the most critical factor, Davis said, if he is to enjoy another 1,000-yard season, as well as a winning season for the Redskins.
"They know they've got to do their job and I know I've got to do my job," Davis said. "And we've got to be on the same page to get things done."
Stephen Davis has thoughts on milestone season: "That would be a great accomplishment, a great goal. . . . It would put me up with the elite."Of changes in team's offense, personnel, Stephen Davis said: "I think it will be more of a learning experience that someday will benefit me."
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