For three days last week, Phillip Daniels was the talk of Redskins Park. The abdominal strain that has kept him out of virtually all of training camp had subsided enough to allow the defensive end to practice fully, and, though still far from being in game condition, Daniels was rapidly winning over coaches and teammates in his first real outing with the Washington Redskins.
The fans and media had long ago been banished from watching practice and the Redskins were enduring their most physical training sessions to date, with the offense and defense knocking heads for hours. Daniels, 31, aggravated the strain in the abdominal area, forcing him to miss Saturday's game against Miami and tomorrow's game in St. Louis. But he left a lasting impression about the kind of impact he can have when the regular season begins Sept. 12.
"He's one of those rare ends that has enough speed and power to play out there on the outside," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "But also you can crank him down inside on passing downs and he is not out of place at all inside. He practiced last week and we're a lot different when he's in there. We've made some improvements, but we are, I think, significantly better when he is on the field."
Getting Daniels, who signed a four-year, $12 million free agent contract in March after becoming a salary cap casualty in Chicago, back on the field by next month is the goal, as he is projected to start and play a lot of downs. The new coaching staff identified the defensive line as being a major deficiency in January, and Daniels is considered vital to developing a pass rush and stopping the run.
"He's a powerful man," said Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach-offense, who watched Daniels closely last week while coaching the offensive line. "He's great against the run and the pass. I'm sorry he's missing practice, because he gets everybody ready. Last week he got [left tackle] Chris Samuels ready for [Miami star defensive end] Jason Taylor. The guy is super quick, but he's powerful. He's a rare defensive end: He's big enough to stop the run but he can overpower you with the pass rush."
Daniels, 6 feet 5, 285 pounds, spent the last four years in Chicago, where he formed a strong bond with defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who now holds that position with the Redskins. Blache was one of the primary reasons Daniels chose Washington over his other free agent suitors, and the Redskins were immediately attracted to Daniels because of his attitude and performance. Daniels's predecessor at right end in Washington, Bruce Smith, spent most of last season chasing the all-time sack record, while Daniels finished with 21/2 sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season.
"I came here to be a leader," said Daniels, who was drafted 99th overall by Seattle in 1996. "A guy who is going to play every down if they need me to; a guy that is going to be productive and make things happen. I'm the type of guy where my teammates can make the plays, and if I can keep that ball from getting outside and they make the plays, then let them make the plays as long as we win the game. That's the kind of guy I am."
Blache played Daniels at right end and moved him to the left side when the starter there was struggling; he also played inside in passing situations. Beyond that, he was always first in line during individual drills, stayed late at the training facility to study tape and was named the Bears' 2002 Man of the Year for his volunteer work in Chicago and his home town of Donalsonville, Ga.
"He's got character and integrity and that's something that's very lacking in our society today," Blache said. "I think the guy is unique. He's an old country boy with good country home values. His family is a priority to him, his team is important to him and his job is important to him. When coach [Gibbs] talked about what he was looking for in a Redskin, Phillip came immediately to mind."
Donalsonville registered a population of 2,796 in the 2000 census and lacks many entertainment options for kids, so Daniels is building a movie complex and other facilities there. Sports was Daniels's refuge, and he became a star basketball and baseball player, and a quarterback, tight end, place kicker, punter and linebacker in high school. "I never came off the field," Daniels said. "I remember after the games having to sit on the field for a while just to get my legs back." He went on to the University of Georgia and spent four seasons with Seattle, posting a career-high nine sacks in 1999, before going to Chicago
Daniels would like to make his Redskins debut in the final preseason game, at FedEx Field against Atlanta Sept. 3, but will take no chances with his injury, which has lingered since a mini-camp in June.
"It's a serious injury, no matter how you look at it," Daniels said. "Hopefully, we'll get it calmed down and it'll keep getting strong and healing and I'll be ready to go when the season starts." Although the weeks of missed games and practices will surely have an effect, Blache believes Daniels's savvy and ability can overcome the lost time.
"If I have anybody who can possibly come in and play well that first game with limited snaps, he's one of the few guys," Blache said. "He's a veteran technical guy and his technique will carry him. It's going to hurt him to a degree. Will it be significant? We'll have to see when the time comes."
. . . defensive end is key to team's plans