The success of their offensive line has been the Washington Redskins' most pleasant surprise. Now the unit's challenge is to maintain its level of play with its first lineup change of the season, as Brad Badger takes over at left guard for the injured Keith Sims.
"I'd like to believe I've been preparing myself like a starter all year," Badger said yesterday. "Now my chance is here to come out and prove that I am a competent backup. At some time, I want to start. But I want to be a team player. Right now, I'm not starting. This week, I am. So I'm going to go out and play hard and prove that I can play."
The Redskins have permitted only 10 sacks in eight games this season after yielding a franchise-record 61 last season. Because of injures and lineup changes, last year's line never developed much cohesion. This season, the unit has been stable and the results have been far better. But Sims suffered a sprained knee ligament during last Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills and likely will miss three games, beginning with Sunday's contest at Philadelphia.
Badger began his Redskins tenure in 1997 as a guard but, out of necessity, opened last season as the starting left tackle. The Redskins abandoned that experiment after 10 games and moved Badger back to guard, and he lost his starting job to Sims during training camp this year.
"I struggled at times," Badger said of his '98 season, "but I think I proved that I can play."
Defensive end Marco Coleman was hospitalized early this week because of an infection in his right knee and didn't practice yesterday. But he was at Redskin Park, and he said he intends to play on Sunday.
"I took all the necessary precautions," he said. "It wasn't that serious, but I wanted to make sure I was okay for the game." . . .
Safety Leomont Evans, who missed the Buffalo game because of a concussion suffered the previous week against the Chicago Bears, practiced yesterday and appears set to return to the lineup Sunday. Reserve defensive end Ndukwe Kalu practiced, but probably will miss a fourth straight game because of a fractured foot. . . .
Quarterback Brad Johnson, running back Stephen Davis and cornerback Champ Bailey each ranks second in the NFC at his position in the fans' portion of the voting for the Pro Bowl. Bailey has received the most votes of any NFC rookie. The fans' Internet voting runs through Dec. 7 at NFL.com. The fans' voting counts for one-third of the Pro Bowl selection process, with voting by the NFL coaches and players also counting one-third each. . . .
Redskins defensive end Kenard Lang said he's more concerned about the condition of the artificial-surface playing field at Veterans Stadium than about the Eagles' notoriously loud and abusive fans. Lang called the turf in Philadelphia the worst in the league.
"The turf is uneven," he said. "You've got to watch your step. You can walk out there and see a crease from 50 yards away."
Staff writer Liz Clarke contributed to this report.