The Washington Redskins saw more encouraging signs from injured running back Stephen Davis yesterday, and Coach Norv Turner said he expects the NFC rushing leader to start Saturday's first-round playoff game against the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field.
But after Davis favored his sprained left ankle on the practice field for a second consecutive day, Turner acknowledged he could not be certain how long or how well Davis will play Saturday.
"I believe he'll be able to start," Turner said. "How long [will he be able to play]? He's awfully mentally tough, so I think he'll be able to play the whole game. . . . He made it through practice. He's still not 100 percent, but he's better than" he was Wednesday.
Cornerback Darrell Green visited Redskin Park yesterday but missed practice for a second day in a row because of bronchitis. Turner said he expects Green to practice today and play Saturday, but mentioned the possibility of using reserve cornerback Mark McMillian in Green's place at times Saturday if Green is too sick or too weak to play the entire game.
"I'm not concerned about Darrell in terms of him being ready to play," Turner said. "I'd like him to practice. . . . We'll see where he is Saturday. We could have to spot Mark for him. . . . We'll just see where he is in terms of his health."
Davis and Redskins officials confirmed yesterday that Davis's practice-field performance Wednesday had been less than impressive. Team officials went home Wednesday night discouraged and uncertain whether Davis would be able to play much, if at all. They felt better after yesterday's practice.
"It was better, a whole lot better," Davis said. "I did a lot more stuff than [Wednesday]. . . . I had to get it loose. Early in practice, it was kind of tender."
Davis continued to limp on the ankle, which he hurt late in the first half of the Redskins' loss to the Colts in Indianapolis on Dec. 19. But he lasted the entire practice, club officials said. Today's practice will be light, Turner said.
Trainer Bubba Tyer said Davis had little swelling or soreness yesterday after practicing Wednesday for the first time since suffering the injury.
"It still bothers him, but he's better," Tyer said. "We have to deal with that. He's going to try to play. He'll give it his best shot."
Skip Hicks totaled only 101 yards rushing while starting the Redskins' final two regular season games in Davis's place, and Turner said Brian Mitchell could get more work than usual Saturday on first and second downs. But Turner said his basic plan is to stick with Hicks as Davis's primary backup and use Mitchell mostly in passing situations.
"We'll use Brian like we normally do, and maybe use him a little bit more in a couple situations," Turner said. ". . . Skip has been a good runner for us. He hasn't been as consistent as Stephen, but he also gets some big runs in there. We've been productive offensively with him. We'll stick with it."
Defensive end Anthony Cook practiced yesterday after being sidelined Wednesday by a stomach virus. Pro Bowl guard Tre Johnson participated in a full practice after being limited by a bruised thigh and linebacker Greg Jones also was more active a day after being slowed by a sore back. Reserve defensive back Darryl Pounds participated in practice despite a sore back.
The Redskins placed wide receiver Derrius Thompson, guard Brad Badger, offensive tackle Jamie Brown and defensive tackle Barron Tanner on their early inactive list for Saturday's game. The Lions had injured kick returner Desmond Howard among their early inactives.