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Dalton Wants to be Redskins' New Inside Force


By Gary Fitzgerald


Lional Dalton understands the ups and downs of the NFL as well as anyone. Last season, the 6-1, 309-pound defensive tackle emerged as a solid run-stuffer with the Denver Broncos, helping a defense that was sixth in the NFL in rush defense.

But when Broncos’ defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes (who coached in Washington in the 2000 season) decided to sign on with the Seattle Seahawks earlier this offseason, Dalton said he suddenly found himself on the outside looking in. The Broncos signed Daryl Gardener and drafted Nick Eason, making Dalton—who started 13 games last year—expendable.

Last week, Denver traded Dalton to the Redskins for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.

“That’s what happens when there’s a coaching change,” Dalton said. “Ray Rhodes left, and they brought in a new defensive coordinator who wanted to bring in his players. It’s part of the game.”

Dalton, who had signed a multi-year free agent contract with the Broncos prior to the 2002 season, said he found the situation confusing because they had asked him to lose weight during the offseason.

“They asked me to lose 10 pounds and I lost 30 pounds,” he said. “Everybody told me I looked great. It was a little surprising that I didn’t fit in their plans anymore.”

Nonetheless, Dalton is proud of his offseason weight loss programs, saying he expects it to improve his performance on the football field.

“I’m a lot lighter and I’m quicker on my feet,” he said. “My body responded well to the weight loss. As you get older, you don’t need to weigh as much. You rely more on technique than just pushing guys around.”

In Washington, he is expected to compete for a starting job while participating in a defensive tackle rotation that includes Jermaine Haley, Bernard Holsey and Martin Chase. Defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Peppi Zellner also may move inside in certain situations.

The Redskins decided to revamp their interior defensive line after the release of Dan Wilkinson and the season-ending knee injury to Brandon Noble. The team is expected to go into the regular season with Haley and Holsey as the starters, but that could change based on performance.

“There’s a possibility that [Dalton] could start eventually,” said defensive coordinator George Edwards. “The thing we’re looking for is consistency and guys that go out and practice every day. If they can do that and then show us what they can do in the game, then we’re going to get those guys on the field.”

Practicing hard hasn’t been a problem for Dalton—except for his first practice at Redskin Park. He left after 45 minutes when he began to feel dehydrated as a result of the heat and humidity.

“I had a long flight earlier in the day and I was a little dehydrated,” he said. “I hadn’t eaten lunch of breakfast, so I basically went out there on an empty stomach. I had Gatorade—that’s about it.”

Said defensive line coach Robert Nunn: “It was a humid day. We were moving him around quite a bit. We were trying to get him as many snaps as possible so that he could contribute against Jacksonville [last Thursday evening].”

Despite just two days with the Redskins, Dalton saw significant playing time in the pre-season finale at Jacksonville, registering one solo tackle and one assisted tackle.

Last year, Dalton compiled 39 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Over his five-year career, which includes four seasons in Baltimore, he has played in 66 games and posted 137 tackles with two sacks and three forced fumbles.

Dalton, a native of Detroit and a three-year letterman at Eastern Michigan University, joined Baltimore as an undrafted rookie in 1998. He was a part of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV Championship season in 2000, posting 33 tackles and helping the defense set a 16-game NFL season record by allowing only 165 points and 970 yards rushing.

In Baltimore, Dalton tutored under Marvin Lewis, the Redskins’ defensive coordinator last year. Lewis implemented many of Baltimore’s schemes in Washington, and new defensive coordinator George Edwards has maintained the system.

Both Dalton and Chase, another recent trade acquisition at defensive tackle who played at Baltimore from 1998-99, have a leg up on learning Redskins’ defense.

Edwards believes Dalton and Chase will both strengthen the defensive tackle rotation so that players don’t wear down and add solid depth should a play succumb to an injury.

“Over a 16-game schedule, you’ve got some guys that are undersized that you want to keep fresh throughout the whole game and throughout the whole season,” he said. “So we’re looking to get the most out of what those guys bring to the table.”

Added Nunn: “The way we’ve approached it is the group we’ve got, we’re going to try to make them work together the best we can. I’m not worried about who we name as the starters. We’re going to have a group of guys going in there every Sunday and they’re a hard-working bunch. We’ve been able to get some pressure with our four linemen and if we continue to do that, we’ll win some ball games.”

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