Strong safety Alvin Walton, the Washington Redskins' leading tackler, missed most of practice yesterday with a sprained right ankle, but Coach Joe Gibbs said he is "counting on" him to be ready for Sunday's playoff game at Chicago.
Walton, injured in the Redskins' 27-24 overtime victory over Minnesota Dec. 26, could be held out of most of practice again today, team officials said. Gibbs said he hopes Walton can practice Friday, the last full workout before the game.
"We'll go to the last second on that," Gibbs said. Walton is listed as probable for the Redskins' NFC semifinal game at Soldier Field at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. That means he has a 75 percent chance of playing.
Veteran defensive back Vernon Dean practiced in Walton's place, Gibbs said. The Redskins also are considering activating rookie safety Clarence Vaughn off injured reserve in case Walton is not ready.
"It's a possibility," assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon said of Vaughn's return. "We'll wait until the end of the week to see how the injuries look."
On offense, the Redskins apparently are planning to use wide receiver Anthony Allen, the former replacement player who set a team record with 255 receiving yards in the first game during the players strike, as the third wideout behind Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Veteran Art Monk is out with a knee ligament injury, and Clarence Verdin, who started against the Vikings when Clark was hurt, says he is out due to a coaching decision.
"My season's over," Verdin said yesterday before practice. "I guess they don't have any confidence in me. I'll be watching this game from home. I'm not playing; I'm not making the trip. I'm healthy. I want to play. It's hard to accept, but that's the decision."
Assistant coach Dan Henning said no official decision has been made on Verdin, pending news on the team's injuries. Because Gibbs has closed practice to reporters this week, no one knows exactly what the Redskins are planning for the Bears.
Running back George Rogers, who showed up for work Monday with a sore lower back, practiced yesterday and was "fine," Gibbs said. Running backs coach Don Breaux said Rogers' back "tightened" at the end of practice, but he did not consider that a problem.
Temperatures in the teens and a wind chill below zero certainly did not help Rogers' back -- or Walton's ankle.
Walton, who made 148 tackles during the season, participated in some early drills on the artificial turf field at Redskin Park yesterday, but then told the trainers the back of his ankle was hurting and stopped practicing, head trainer Bubba Tyer said.
"Cutting on the hard turf stiffened the back of the ankle," Tyer said. "It's still a little weak, but I feel confident he'll be ready by Sunday."
Walton said he thinks he can play -- "I'm just waiting to see what happens."
The Bears play on artificial turf at Soldier Field, where temperatures were in single digits yesterday but are predicted to rise into the teens by Sunday.
Among the bits and pieces of information to come from behind the gates at Redskin Park was Gibbs' hope for activating running back Keith Griffin (thigh) and tight end Clint Didier (groin), both of whom missed the Vikings game. The only catch is if the Redskins have room for them on the 45-man roster.
On special teams, Gibbs said cornerback Darrell Green is working some at returning punts, which he did in the Vikings game, and Sanders on kickoff returns after breaking a key 36-yarder at Minnesota.
"Given a certain situation, we would go with them," he said. The regular return men are Eric Yarber on punts and Griffin on kickoffs.
If the Redskins defeat the Bears and move on to the NFC championship game, there's a "possibility" Monk will be ready, Gibbs said.
"You always hold out hope," Gibbs said, explaining that Monk is running well straight ahead but his knee becomes "tender" when he tries to cut.
It's widely believed that the Redskins won't go anywhere Sunday if their running game doesn't get on track. Gibbs said Rogers, Kelvin Bryant and Timmy Smith will continue to rotate in and out of the game. Rogers will start, and he knows he is on the spot.
"Hopefully, I'll be in there a lot more than I have been," Rogers said. "I haven't played up to my potential. I have to be kind of discouraged about it, but there's nothing I can do about it. I can't go back and change it."
Rogers, who gained 613 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry in a season full of injuries, said this was "probably my worst season out of seven years."
He blamed changing defenses, "the blocking breaking down every now and then" and his "not making good runs all the time" for his season.
Asked if he might be able to make up for it in the playoffs, Rogers said, "The way we're in and out, I don't think it will be too much redemption."
Defensive end Dexter Manley is at it again. Told that Chicago Coach Mike Ditka said he has the "IQ of a grapefruit," Manley responded, "I've got something for him. I've got a case of grapefruit for him."
Manley wouldn't disclose when he would spring the grapefruit on Ditka.
Of the 11-4 Redskins, Manley said, "We can beat anybody, even the Russians if we have to. Mikhail Gorbachev; we can beat him. We can beat Congress. We can do it."
One final thought: "I don't necessarily have to get into word battles. I'm just going to be Dexter. And whatever comes out is going to come out."