For his entire NFL career, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson has had massive expectations placed on his massive shoulders. He not only came in as the number one overall pick in the 1994 draft but, as he was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals, he had the added burden of playing in the same state where he had starred as on Ohio State Buckeye. After four decent but unspectacular years with the Bengals, he jumped to the Redskins as a free agent. Well, not quite free. He cost the Redskins a big contract and their 1994 first- and third-round draft picks.
The Redskins were expecting that a change of scene and a bit more experience would launch “Big Daddy” to stardom. As the years rolled on, the expectations faded to hope, the hope to wishful thinking. Few if any defensive tackles have blossomed into Pro Bowl performers after the age of 30 and that’s how old Wilkinson is. Bust might be too strong a term to use to describe him; certainly, disappointment is not.
Wilkinson enters the 2003 season with his Redskins career teetering on the brink. Had Daryl Gardener re-signed with the Redskins last March, Wilkinson almost certainly would have been a June 1 salary cap casualty. As it is, he will be expected to take a pay cut to reduce his $5.1 million salary cap number.
To his credit, Wilkinson came into minicamp in the best shape he’s been in in years, suggesting that he realizes that his NFL days are numbered and conditioning will be the key to how many more NFL paydays there will be for him. He will be lining up next to free agent acquisition Brandon Noble at defensive tackle. Noble is kind of the anti-Wilkinson. Big Daddy has great physical talent but tends to take plays, even series, off. Noble is not blessed with great tools but his motor never stops. Perhaps Noble can serve as an inspiration for Wilkinson.
The Redskins do not need for Wilkinson to blossom into stardom and become a Pro Bowl starter for their defense to be successful. They expect him to go hard on every play, occupy a good chunk of space in the middle of the line, and generate an occasional pass rush push up the middle. That will free up the Redskins linebackers to make plays. If Wilkinson can do that consistently, both his future and the defense’s performance will be looking solid. If not, it will be the end of the trail for Big Daddy and back to the drawing board for the Redskins.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com