Last offseason, defensive end Phillip Daniels played in only five games -- all starts -- because of groin and wrist injuries. The experience was especially frustrating because Daniels had seemed almost indestructible during his nine NFL seasons.
Now Daniels is back at right defensive end, to give Washington some pass rushing, which was lacking last season on a defensive line that performed surprisingly well.
"To sit on the side with your teammates out there playing their hearts out, that really hurt," recalled Daniels, who before last year missed no more than three games in a season. "That hurt a lot. I never went through a season like that.
"If we all could get our sack totals up, it makes for a great season. I can come out and do those things. I'm a big. Penetrating and making things happen for my teammates is what I'm all about."
Gregg Williams -- assistant head coach of defense -- compared Daniels to defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin in that he's such a force that offenses must account for him, especially with double teams.
"We think we've got another free agent this year, because last year he didn't get a chance to play as much as we wanted him to play," Williams said of Daniels. "We were different defensively when he played. We were much stronger up front.
"There's so many things that Phillip can do that doesn't show up on the normal stat sheet. And that's cause sacks [and] cause tackles for losses; where he's been the first guy there at the point [of attack] and somebody else cleans up behind him."
The Redskins defense is set up for their beefy defensive linemen to occupy blockers, allowing smaller players, particularly linebackers, to come free on the outside.
"We just play the defense that's designed," Daniels said. "Sometimes we go inside, and you're taking on two blocks, and somebody's got to be free. Either you're helping your D-linemen out or you're helping the DBs or the linebackers come through on the outside. It's all about teamwork."
Strong safety Ryan Clark remains ahead of Matt Bowen on Washington's unofficial depth chart. However, Bowen has frequently practiced with the first unit, an indication of how far he has come from a knee injury that cut his season short after Week 5. Despite tearing his ACL, Bowen has shown his familiar kamikaze style that makes him a good fit in Williams's attacking defense. Bowen believes that he is actually more explosive than before the injury because he focused on leg strength during rehabilitation. Bowen said yesterday that even if he doesn't regain his starting job, he expects to receive extensive playing time because of Williams's proclivity to rotate players.
"If you're on the final roster, you're a starter," Bowen said. "And my expectation is to help the team win in whatever capacity I can."
Williams said of Bowen: "As a coach, my biggest worry is slowing him down. He works so hard to do thing exactly the way you want it done. Matt is such a mentally tough person. He pushes the physical limits every single day right to the brink.
"We've got to be real smart as coaches and as trainers there on how much we let him do. Right now, he thinks he's better than he's ever been."
Playing for Time
Coach Joe Gibbs doesn't plan on telling his starters how much time they will play during their preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium. Generally, early in preseason, most starters play the first quarter as reserves get the bulk of the exhibitions.
"I'm always reluctant to say because as soon as you tell them something, they're going to shut it off at that point," Gibbs explained. "I always kind of like to go off feel. I like everybody to think they're going to play the whole game. But certainly we need a good rhythm to get going on offense.
"The defensive coaches are going to kind of go by feel over there. [Special teams coach] Danny [Smith] has got a lot of guys he wants to look at. It's an important start for us."
This afternoon's practice -- from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 -- is the final opportunity for fans to watch the Redskins practice at Redskins Park. One T-shirt that has popped up occasionally among spectators is in support of safety Sean Taylor, who faces a minimum of three years in jail for a felony count of aggravated assault stemming from a confrontation in Miami during the summer. The yellow shirt emblazoned "Free Sean Taylor" is being sold on Ebay for $15 by DCSportsFan.com. During last Saturday's scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens, a group of a dozen fans sitting together at M& T Bank Stadium wore the T-shirts. Taylor's trial date is Sept. 12, one day after Washington's season-opener against the Chicago Bears, although it's expected to be postponed until after the season.