After training camp practices last summer, defensive end Renaldo Wynn walked past the training room on the way to the Washington Redskins' locker room. Wynn's path was no different from the armada of players going through the Redskins Park back exit, which adjoins the training room. But the Redskins' medical staff and other oft-injured teammates, accustomed to seeing the 6-foot-3, 292-pound Wynn in the whirlpool since he joined the team in 2002, started ribbing him about his absence.
"They said: 'Oh, you don't want to holler at your boys any more. You don't know us.' " Wynn recalled yesterday. "I said, 'Hey man, you're still my boys but I'm not trying to make this my home. That's a good thing. Me not hollering at you guys means I'm not injured. I'm not trying to hang out in there.'
"I used to live in there," Wynn continued. "Now, it's great to not have to wake up early for treatment."
Wynn, 29, is his healthiest since signing a six-year, $20.5 million contract, which included a $3.5 million bonus. He came to Washington billed as a stellar run-stopper, but then heard criticism for not paying dividends.
In his first Redskins season, Wynn played through a groin ailment, but his lateral movement was hindered. Last season, he suffered an ankle sprain and an arthritic knee. Wynn didn't reveal the knee injury to coaches until his play became so meager after a few games that he could no longer hide it. Wynn finished the season with a career-low 30 tackles and only two sacks.
Nagging ailments are routine in the NFL, but Wynn withstood injuries that typically cause players to sit out. Wynn has started every game since joining the Redskins. And the eight-year veteran's willingness to endure pain has led to 103 starts (and appearances) in 113 games during his NFL career. The last game Wynn missed occurred on Oct. 13, 2000.
Injuries "are part of the game," Wynn said. "The one thing that frustrates you is when you're looking forward to a season, and then you can't do certain things because of injuries."
In Wynn's previous two seasons with the Redskins, he recorded only 41/2 sacks. But Wynn already has two sacks and 23 tackles, including 14 solo. Wynn has helped turn around Washington's defensive line. And the Redskins possess the top-ranked defense in the 32-team NFL, limiting tailbacks to an average of 84 yards per game -- third best in the NFL.
The Redskins pride themselves on being one of the best-conditioned teams in the NFL. And Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, praised Wynn for getting with the program, starting with the first minicamp in March.
"I know we shocked him. We really did when we first started this," Williams said yesterday. "But to his credit . . . he got himself in really good shape this offseason. When you're in great shape, you bounce back or recover a lot faster."
Wynn, the only holdover from last season's maligned starting defensive line, makes few highlight-reel plays. But he rarely makes mistakes and possesses the versatility to play tackle, especially on passing downs. Williams said he was surprised by Wynn's athleticism because the defensive lineman also possesses the strength to play defensive tackle.
Wynn was a star tailback as a senior at Chicago's De LaSalle High. Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis was an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh when he recruited Wynn. Lewis, whose Bengals face the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field, traveled to Chicago to try to sway Wynn. But Wynn picked Notre Dame, where he was a 190-pound safety on the practice squad during his freshman year. Wynn switched to linebacker after bulking up, then eventually defensive end before being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the 1997 draft.
Wynn played in Jacksonville until becoming a free agent in 2002, the same year Lewis became Washington's defensive coordinator. Although Wynn wasn't initially considering Washington, Lewis helped persuade him to join the Redskins. "He played a big part," Wynn said. "And he reminded me that he came to Chicago to recruit me."
Wynn is known for a strong work ethic and mastering techniques and fundamentals. Cornelius Griffin, who is performing like one of the league's best defensive tackles after improving his technique, credits Wynn with bolstering his footwork. Wynn is a cerebral defender who uses his understanding of blocking schemes for an edge. He has made Washington's coaching staff look smart a few times this season because of split-second adjustments made between snaps.
Wynn also contributes with his leadership. He had been one of Washington's official captains during Steve Spurrier's two-year tenure as head coach. Wynn doesn't carry the title of captain anymore because Coach Joe Gibbs changes his captains for each game. But the respect teammates have for Wynn was confirmed when he was voted the team's representative for the NFL Players Association for the second straight year.
Wynn isn't the most loquacious player on the team, although he is more talkative and engaging among fellow linemen. "When he says something," Griffin said, "you know he means it. He's one of those guys who leads by example. He's only rah-rah if he has to be."