Defensive end Marco Coleman built a reputation in seven seasons in the NFL as a first-rate run stopper. In his career with the Washington Redskins, Coleman intends to prove he can rush passers, too.
The anchor of San Diego's top-ranked run defense last season, Coleman landed with the Redskins in June after contract negotiations stalled with the Chargers. He has quickly made an impact in the preseason, raising intensity on the field and building camaraderie off it for a unit that was a disappointment in 1998.
"He's always coming 100 percent every play," said Redskins guard Keith Sims, a frequent opponent in drills. "You cannot take a play off with Marco against you."
At 29, Coleman is the elder statesman of the Redskins' defensive line, which is rounded out by end Kenard Lang and tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson. It's an enviable lineup, composed entirely of first-round draft picks. But Coleman doesn't talk about the line's draft history; he instead points to NFL history.
Great defensive lines -- whether it was Pittsburgh with Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood or Minnesota with Jim Marshall and Alan Page -- were distinguished by attitude and pride, Coleman said.
"Those guys went out expecting a lot from the next man and not wanting to let the next man down," Coleman said. "You could just see it. There was a whole lot of love. There was an attitude of, `We're going to stop you. We're not going to let you do anything to us.' And everybody had that attitude along the whole line."
That's what Coleman hopes to help instill in the Redskins' line. And he said he plans to use the lessons he learned under Bobby Ross, his head coach at Georgia Tech, and Greene, his defensive line coach with the Dolphins.
At Tech and Miami, Coleman played on attacking defenses. So it worked well for him when the Redskins shifted to a more aggressive, attacking style of play upon his arrival.
"To stand and wait, you can't make anything happen," he said. "If you're running, you can make something happen."
A football fundamentalist, Coleman said he is not a big fan of the trend toward situational substitution. Rather, he believes players should be able and expected to do it all at their position.
In Coleman's case, he likely would have been taken out in third-and-long situations in favor of a pass-rushing specialist such as Ken Harvey, had he not retired, or Chris Doleman, had he come out of retirement to play for Washington.
Coleman said he'd certainly play whatever role coaches asked.
"I'm never going to disrupt the team," he said. "You've got to do what's best for the team."
But he said it makes more sense to let the four linemen who forced the offense into third-and-long situations finish the job. Doing otherwise, he said, destroys whatever continuity they've built.
"For instance, you have a doubles partner in tennis, and you know exactly where that person is going," he said. "Now, if at a certain point in the game, you change partners, then all of the sudden, it's: `. . . I thought you were going to be here! So-and-so was always at this spot!' "
It has been four years since Coleman played for Greene, but he still carries his lessons with him. One of those is that football isn't a complicated game.
"He would always say, `It is very simple. You line up, and you beat the dude's butt in front of you. You're either going to win or you're going to lose the battle.' "
Another tip, which Coleman shared recently with Lang, was to take as direct a route possible to the quarterback. You start by picking a spot on the field about three yards behind the offensive tackle and race him to the spot.
As Coleman explained, Lang walked by and couldn't resist dropping in on the interview. Stubblefield walked by with a nod, as Wilkinson had moments earlier. Each player was part of the reason Coleman chose to sign with the Redskins. He knew Stubblefield by reputation. He saw Lang play for Miami during his years with the Dolphins. And Wilkinson, who is from Coleman's home town of Dayton, Ohio, attended a rival high school. Coleman served as his host when Wilkinson paid his college visit to Georgia Tech.
"I've known him and known about him since I was a little boy," Wilkinson said of his new teammate, whom he deeply admires. "He has brought experience, which is unmeasurable. He has brought play-making ability. He has brought leadership and a real good attitude, which spreads. I got love for the man, that's all."
Coleman's $1.5 million deal with the Redskins is for only one year. He said he's not thinking beyond that, but focusing instead on what he wants to prove this year.
"Like on the pass rushing," he said. "I came out of college as a pass rusher, and now all the sudden I'm just a run stopper. I feel I can do both. I don't think I need to come off the field at any point in the game.
"Next year, if the Redskins would like to keep me here, fine. If not, I want to just be satisfied with this season in the things that I accomplished with my teammates. First and foremost, I'm going to do my part to make sure that we can be successful as a team."