The Redskins did not invent Dexter Manley, although in the NFL's lust for perfection in violence someone like him seems inevitable about now. His job titles include letters, numbers and something called "right release." Simply and brutally put, Manley is supposed to cause collisions on special teams, capsize and lobotomize. He just might be the ultimate hit man at the moment.
Manley mans each of the kick teams in a special way, but chasing punt returners seems his forte. It's what has gotten him noticed around the league in an unusual way for a rookie drafted in the fifth round. At 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, he is both the largest fast man and the fastest large man split wide on punt coverage. Also, he is nasty enough to think the ideal no-return includes the poor soul he has planted at the spot of the catch not returning to the game.
In the preseason, teams showed their growing respect for his primitive punishment as each game progressed. The Colts and Patriots each began with one man assigned to stop him at the line of scrimmage, then brought out two interceptors and finally three.
"He was vicious," said the Pats' Don Westbrook. "I never saw a cover man so big."
Neither had punt returner Roland James, who admits that the reason for his two muffs Sunday was moving his eye from the floating football toward the thundering Manley.
"I heard him, too," James added.
Washington appreciates special-teams players as perhaps no other town in the country. Manley wants eventually to be part of the roll call of Redskin rogues that includes Jon Jaqua, Bill Malinchak, Mike Hull, Brad Dusek and the king, Rusty Tillman, crazies who would stick their face into a punter's upswinging foot if the price was right.
Manley is the logical special-teams progression. Usually, small stingers -- defensive backs -- are the release men on punt coverage, for the role demands someone fast and agile who also can tackle in the open field. The sensation of the early '70s, Jaqua, was 6 feet and 190 pounds; Manley is three inches taller, 55 pounds heavier and very likely faster.
Unlike some others, Manley is honest about his work, in a naive way. His is wicked business, survival of the fittest, dangerous, and anyone not thrilled with hurting another human need not apply. Most of the league's legal headhunters refuse to dwell on the ugliness, the acts necessary to cause five-to 10-yard losses that might get them five to 10 off the field.
What are Manley's motivations, the special-teams joys of his dreams?
"Ear-hole shots," he says. In and out of uniform, Manley pulls no punches. He will fracture the language even more than opposition runners this season. But the NFL does not covet men who can diagram sentences, just ones who can avoid serving them.
About those (side-of-the-helmet) ear-hole shots: "Hittin' somebody on the head, in the ear. I like to see where I can take a man out (with a block) and bust him on the head." The jarring, one-on-one tackles that leave some fans tingly and others nauseous are called, on more NFL teams than the Redskins, "going for the throat."
Wayne Sevier (pronounces Sa-VERE), the Redskin special teams coach, took one look at Manley's build, another when the watch timing him for 40 yards stopped at 4.55 seconds and all but demanded him for outside release on punt coverage. As James showed, any fanatic that size can be effective as a distraction. Dexter draws your attention.
"They're not dumb," Sevier said of the catchers Manley could squash if he and the ball arrived at the same time. Someday, perhaps soon, Manley-sized returners will invade the NFL. But then rushers coming at them might be the size of Dave Butz.
The safety rule limiting punt-return blocking to above the waist gives Manley a huge advantage, for the men sent outside to try to check him usually are much smaller. If they can't cut him, how can they stop him?
"They not," he said, in a soft, lilting manner. "I'm gonna tell you like it is. They not. Not being cocky or nothing, but I got a job to do -- and I want to do it to the best of my ability. God give me the ability, so I might as well use it."
"The special teams man of the year in the NFL last year, according to Inside Sports, was Hank Bauer," said Sevier, who was Bauer's coach with the Chargers. "Hank had 112 hits in 16 games. Against New England, Dexter had 12."
(A hit is a tackle or assist on the punting and kickoff teams, or eliminating at least two men on the wedge. On punt and kickoff returns, ear-hole shots are counted.)
"Once against the Colts," Sevier said, "he came down to the wedge and the guy really nailed him. Dexter sort of buckled a little, but while he was in that buckled position, sort of over backwards, he was strong enough to get up under the guy's pads and drive him directly into the ball carrier."
Manley is certain that the off-the-field sin that he made public in a training-camp confessional (Social Security fraud) kept him from being drafted much higher than the fifth round. His has been a hard life, full of scars that do and do not show. His father died of cancer; his brother was shot.
"When did I feel I belonged in the NFL?" he said, repeating a question. He thought a bit. Most rookies recall a training-camp experience, or a play in a preseason game. Finally, Manley said: "My sophomore year in college (Oklahoma State). I knew. I just knew."
And what happened on that Baltimore triple team? Could three Colts stop one horse?
"To be honest," Manley said, "I was runnin' through quite a few of 'em. Matter of fact, all of 'em."
Manley is not worried that such talk will make him a marked man. He already is.
"You comin' to the game Sunday?" he asked.