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Phillip Daniels is strong

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Phillip Daniels is strong.

Is that what passes for a lead/lede (the debate rages on!) around here? I'm just following the big dogs, as USA Today's Inside Slant demonstrates:

Phillip Daniels is 35.

That is hot off the presses, nine-minute old news, I'm told.

But, unfortunately, very true. Phillip Daniels is old. USA Today might as well have substituted his actual age for a descriptive adjective like elderly, ancient, or antediluvian if they were feeling especially saucy. On the let's-keep-smiles front, battle-tested, seasoned, or familiar would have worked.

Or just old.

The reality in the NFL is that actually quite young human beings can be approaching their professional twilight by their mid-30s, especially when that person's job description says something like: Must outrun or out power a large, probably younger superhuman.

At 35 I'm not certain how much success Daniels will have outrunning his younger opponents, but on this latter challenge there is some reason for optimism. Because though Phillip Daniels might be old in football years -- he's the third oldest on the team, behind Todd Collins and Ethan Albright -- he's strong even by football standards. Really strong:

And Daniels is certainly stronger. In his first competitive powerlifting event since 1999, the 6-4, 290-pound Daniels won his weight class with a 633-pound squat and a 600-pound dead-lift at the American Powerlifting Federation Nationals in March.

"That was in March so who knows what I can lift now?" Daniels said. "I took two weeks off (after the Jan. 5 wild-card loss at Seattle) and I went right into powerlifting. I hadn't done this since just before my last year in Seattle.

Not so coincidentally, that's when Daniels had a career-high 9.0 sacks, which resulted in a hefty, four-year deal with the Bears. And Daniels had 8.0 sacks with the Redskins in 2005, the healthiest of his first four seasons in Washington.

You've hooked me, USA Today, but I learn best with pictures. Six hundred pounds, huh? Consider:


Tsunami-02_medium

via www.all-creatures.org

I'm told the feller on the left weighs 600 lbs. (Fat ass on the right is beyond even the comic strength of Daniels; he's a 700 pound tortoise.) There are no 600 pound offensive linemen in the NFL. As of this writing, I should add.

I must acknowledge that Daniels hasn't exactly been the sackmaster recently. His sack totals have steadily declined since 2005 from 8 to 3 to 2.5 last season. His tackles haven't moved in the right direction, either, from 48 total in 2005 to 37 in both '06 and '07. But tackling and sacks (and the latter requires the former) is not the only thing a defensive end can do to help the defense.

Sacks aren't some glorious end in and of themselves, even if fans love watching them. They're great because they kill the opponent's down while also taking from them some yards. Even when they fail to accomplish the yardage decrease by any substantial amount, sacks are still extremely valuable for the defense. A negative inches sack is still a useful means towards the ultimate end of forcing the other poor bastard to die three times then punt. Another, comparably debilitating means towards that end is swatting the ball down. It doesn't get the yards, it isn't nearly as sexy a stat as the sack, but it always kills the opponent's down and sometimes leads to an immediate possession change; batted passes sometimes get intercepted.

Phillip Daniels is a ball-hawk. At least in so far as the term can be used for defensive linemen.

See for yourself: Daniels can claim that he had more passes defensed than LaRon Landry last year. Only Shawn Springs, London Fletcher, and Fred Smoot had more. If you combined all the passes defensed by other defensive linemen last season it would be nine, or, the same amount Daniels had. Nine passes defensed.

I am not certain that all nine were swatted balls, but it's doubtful that the Redskins were often putting a 276 pound, thirty-something linemen into coverage. I also know that many of those passes defensed were balls swatted at or near the line of scrimmage, because I watched him do it. (CNNSI says 8 of them were, in fact, batted down at the LOS.)

Would I trade every sack for a ball swatted at the line of scrimmage? No, but it's close, or at least a lot closer than most fans would be willing to admit. And if you counted them as comparable than Phillip Daniels goes from an over-the-hill defensive end in steady decline in 2007 to similarly disposed towards ending the opponent's play as Andre Carter. Carter had 10.5 sacks and 2 passes defensed. Daniels very nearly swapped, with 9 defensed passes and 2.5 sacks.

Admittedly, none of that takes into consideration hurries or pressures or simply presence. At some point trying to turn Phillip Daniels in 2007 into Andre Carter in 2007 is asking reader(s) to deny what their eyes told them; Carter was the better defensive end. But I'm saying it's close, or at least closer than your eyes said.

Phillip Daniels is old. He does have twelve years, almost certainly his best years, of NFL experience behind him. Somewhere in the future a younger player is going to have to supplant him as the starter. But that doesn't mean he's finished tomorrow; the man still knows how to rush a passer with his head up, focused on the only really important thing in dispute, which has been, and always will be, the actual football. Also:

Phillip Daniels can lift a hippopotamus.