Coach Joe Gibbs stood before his Redskins recently and praised one of their teammates. He didn't talk about the player's pass catching talents or his blocking or his endurance. Instead, Gibbs talked at length about his work habits and attitude.
"I wanted all the players to realize what kind of job this guy was doing," Gibbs said. "His dedication is amazing. He's the kind of player I want on my side. He's a real worker."
The subject of Gibbs' praise was tight end Don Warren.
Surrounded by more visible stars such as Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Joe Washington, Art Monk and Charlie Brown, it's easy even for teammates to overlook Warren. But in some ways, he is a good example why the Redskins are 6-1 this season.
Warren is what coaches call an overachiever. He has extended his talents to the maximum, already accomplishing more in four years than most scouts thought he could in his entire pro career. There are a number of other overachievers, players who have responded to coaching and their own drive to become competent professionals.
"The first thing you notice about Don Warren is that he is extremely serious about his job," said Warren Simmons, the Redskins tight end coach. "The next is that he executes things exactly as you want them done. He has a great ability to concentrate. And when he makes a mistake, he gets irritated with himself, really upset. He's just very, very tough."
Since the end of the strike, he has become increasingly more important in the offense. He's already caught 23 passes, third behind Monk and Brown, and needs nine more to set a personal high even in this shortened schedule.
Considering Gibbs' success with tight ends when he was San Diego's offensive coordinator, it isn't surprising that a Redskins tight end is being productive. Only it wasn't supposed to be Warren.
In Gibbs' two-tight end offense, the second tight end, who normally goes in motion, usually is more active than the blocking tight end, who is Warren. The Redskins hoped rookie Mike Williams could be that motion man this season, but he slumped after the strike, then hurt a knee last week and was put on injured reserve. Rick Walker, who has started with Warren most of the year, does more blocking than receiving on early downs and is replaced by Monk on passing downs. Clint Didier is too inexperienced for a prominent role.
So the Redskins adjusted to take advantage of Warren's ability. He is not particularly fast or agile, but has sure hands and runs good short and medium patterns.
"I've really enjoyed what they are letting me do this year," Warren said. "It's changed since last season. I love to block--always have--but you like to catch passes, too. I think I do a decent job on short and medium stuff, but I know I'm not a speed burner. I can concentrate on my strengths this way."
Simmons: "We still talk about what he did against Dallas earlier this year. He caught a screen pass and just bulled his way for 26 yards. Mike Downs, their safety, tried to tackle him. Downs lost six teeth on the play and Don just kept going. It surprised us, the way he handled that screen."
Still, Warren is a Redskin primarily because of his blocking. He has added 20 muscular pounds (up to 245) since joining the team as a fourth-round 1979 choice, and he uses that extra weight to help the Redskins' outside running game. Simmons feels he is as successful as any other tight end in the league against the blitzing of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
"You know Don is going to do things precisely the way you want them done," Gibbs said. "It's gotten so, when we look at films and see he's done something wrong, it's probably best to go back and check it again, to see if maybe we aren't making a coaching mistake. That's how well he does what he is asked."
Warren is a quiet, no-nonsense type who'd much prefer to remain in the background. "I've always been the same," he said. "I just want to come to work, do my job, pick up my paycheck and go home and be with my wife and baby.
"I've never wanted the publicity, I don't need it. But it was nice to have Joe compliment me in the meeting. I just won't start thinking that now I can stop working. I know how I got this far and when I forget that, I'm in trouble."
Cornerback LeCharls McDaniel has worked as the nickel back this week, but Joe Lavender still may play against New Orleans Sunday. "Joe's knee is coming along and it's something we'll have to decide Sunday," said Richie Petitbon, the defensive coordinator. "If we had to play today, LeCharls would be the man." Lavender hurt his knee against New York Sunday . . . The Redskins will keep a regular Saturday schedule today, even though it is Christmas. They have a meeting and practice in late morning, then fly to New Orleans at 2:30 . . . "There will be plenty of time after the season for celebrations," said Gibbs.