The Washington Redskins' hopes of coaxing pass-rushing specialist Chris Doleman out of retirement appear to be fading, according to a knowledgeable source. But on the heels of a strong defensive performance in their 20-19 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills Friday night, Redskins officials are increasingly optimistic they can mount an effective pass rush without him.
Doleman is seeking $3 million to $4 million to play every down for another season. The Redskins need him primarily as a third-down pass rusher, given Ken Harvey's retirement earlier this month, and were interested in paying a good bit less for the more limited role they envisioned.
Defensive end Marco Coleman, acquired in the offseason after he was released by San Diego, has quickly become a pass-rushing force. The Redskins also are seeing improved play from defensive end Kenard Lang. And they like the spark they're getting from Ndukwe Kalu, who blends enthusiasm and inexperience to produce the occasional big play as well as big penalties.
Doleman's Washington-based agent, David Falk, had no comment about talks with the Redskins, according to a team official.
Through two preseason games, the first-team defense has held its first-team opponents to three points in two halves.
The starting offense, however, is jelling more slowly, with heated competition at running back (where Stephen Davis holds the edge over Skip Hicks) and left tackle (with Andy Heck having the upper hand over Joe Patton).
After taking Sunday off, the Redskins resumed practice yesterday without quarterback Brad Johnson, who was given the day off. Johnson, wearing his customary knee brace, watched as Rodney Peete and Casey Weldon ran the offense. It was the third consecutive day Johnson has not worked full speed with his receivers. But Johnson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee on May 5, said the break was part of the schedule he and Coach Norv Turner had agreed to before training camp, with Johnson resting every 10 days or so.
Asked how his knee was progressing, Johnson pointed to the two plays in which he scrambled Friday against Buffalo.
"I think you saw on Friday night with the scrambles, it's not really an issue," said Johnson, who gained nine yards on one of his scampers. He also completed 12 of 24 throws for 117 yards.
Turner said he expected Johnson to rejoin practice today, which would give the team plenty of time to prepare for its preseason game Saturday at Pittsburgh.
"I don't think one day gives you the rest you want," Turner said of Johnson's respite. "It was just a good opportunity to get an extended rest."
The Redskins also practiced without starting tight end Stephen Alexander, who will miss Saturday's game and possibly the preseason finale against Tampa Bay on Sept. 3 after spraining his knee against Buffalo. Rookie Robert Tardio and former fullback Mike Sellers filled in at tight end and will play a good bit on Saturday, Turner said.
The Redskins' offense has compiled 681 yards through the first two preseason games, compared with opponents' 729.
Against Buffalo, which has one of the NFL's tougher defenses, the Redskins moved the ball well but failed to score on several promising drives.
"We're moving the ball," Johnson said. "We're not turning the ball over. We didn't score as many points as we would have liked. But we're not having guys miss alignment."
On one of those drives that fell short, with the Redskins with a second and goal on Buffalo's 2, Hicks missed a block.
"He went to block the guy and just missed him," running game coordinator Bobby Jackson said. "He was going at the correct guy; he just didn't get the job done."
Hicks's miss forced Johnson to rush his pass. Turner pulled Hicks after that series and inserted Davis, who rushed for two first downs on his first two carries.
Davis finished with 38 yards on nine carries, including one touchdown. Hicks gained 12 yards on his nine carries.
Davis got the start at tailback during practice yesterday and will keep it for Saturday's game, Turner said.
The two running backs have radically different styles, and Turner's plan for the season seems to be to use each as the occasion warrants. When in doubt, Davis tucks his head and barrels dead ahead between the tackles, while Hicks favors popping to the outside in hopes of breaking off a big gain. Hicks set a Redskins rookie record last year with his eight rushing touchdowns, and Turner is mindful of his explosive capabilities.
"We won three straight games with Skip playing tailback for us," Turner said. "I've got confidence in Skip, and I've got confidence in Stephen and they've got a good battle going."
Asked when he would decide on his starter, Turner said: "You don't have to make a decision. That decision will be made by the two of them."
In the battle for the place kicking job, Brett Conway and Jeff Hall hit all three of their attempts in practice yesterday, from 33, 38 and 45 yards. Cary Blanchard missed, wide right, from 38 yards.
Redskins Notes: With the regular season three weeks away, Turner does not have a TV show, as he had his first five seasons with WJLA-7.
"I'm not currently aware of any plans to continue the coach's show, which has been on our air for the last five seasons," producer Rich Daniel said.
WJLA-TV lost the contract to air Redskins preseason games in negotiations with new team owner Daniel M. Snyder, who turned to WRC-4. Turner was among the more highly compensated coaches under his TV deal, which was worth at least six figures annually. . . .
Snyder has installed a new trophy case that prominently displays the team's three Super Bowl trophies in the center of the lobby at Redskin Park. Before, the trophies had been stored in a case off to one side of the entryway. Also new: giant color blowups of old Sports Illustrated covers that featured the Redskins at the height of the team's glory years, near the entrance to the locker rooms downstairs.