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Weary of off side, recovered Rocker is anxious to contribute


HERNDON, Va. -- Tracy Rocker has a big, wide smile that fits a big, wide man, but nobody has seen much of it lately.

He is "OK," he said, if they want to take him off injured reserve to play for the Washington Redskins against Buffalo on Sunday at RFK Stadium (1 p.m., Channel 2).

How long, Rocker was asked, has he been OK? And there was the bright smile.

"A long time," he said.

It has been a long time since Rocker went on IR with a injured knee. It was allegedly hurt in the Redskins' 21-10 loss to the Giants in the Meadowlands on Oct. 28.

Rocker, starting at left tackle for the 17th straight game, presumably had vindicated the management's judgment in making him their top draft choice of 1989.

But he had jumped offside at a most conspicuous time, after Ralf Mojsiejenko's punt had been downed on the Giants' 3-yard line in the first quarter. Rocker's contretemps gave the Giants 5 more yards of breathing room and they escaped (through and around the other side of the line).

Six days later Jumpy Geathers was activated from the "physically unable to perform" category and Rocker was pronounced injured.

Asked at the time whether Rocker's untimely leap forward was a factor in the move, defense chief Richie Petitbon said: "It didn't do him any good."

"Aw, that wasn't it," defensive line coach Vern Torgeson said yesterday as Rocker worked with the first unit. There wasn't any second unit, with three of the seven regulars hurt. Charles Mann probably will play Sunday; Markus Koch probably won't and Eric Williams definitely won't.

"They all do that," Torgeson said of Rocker's slip-up. They all do, and all coaches remember, try as they may to forget.

Rocker had another offside penalty that may still lurk in the coaches' memories. Last year, in his second professional game, he was sent in to bulwark the line with his 290 pounds when the Eagles had a third-and-one.

Rocker tipped forward, lost his balance and fell on his face. First down, Philadelphia, and Rocker had to trot off the field before the usual 55,000 Redskin-hailers in RFK Stadium.

That could be called a rookie mistake, but veterans get caught, regularly. Mann was offside twice and Monte Coleman once in the shocking defeat at Indianapolis Saturday night.

"You try to watch the center's hand," said defensive tackle Tim Johnson, who started 41 games for the Steelers the past three years. "But then you have to take your eyes off your man, and you have to adjust to what your man is doing.

"Then the center will try to fool you, by moving his hand a little, or squeezing the ball. There's a lot of little things they do.

"That quarterback [the Colts' Jeff George] was changing his inflection," Johnson said. "He threw us off a couple of times."

Though Mann is expected to play Sunday, Johnson was working at right end in practice yesterday. Fred Stokes was the other end, Geathers the right tackle.

And Rocker was at left tackle. "Nobody told me nothin'," Rocker said. "All I can say is I'm ready. I've been ready."


* The NFL office will not announce until late Sunday night ("or early Monday") which playoff games will be played on which days, at what hours, of the Jan. 5-6 weekend.

* "The Bills don't have a real good punt returner," Redskins punt returner Joe Howard said. "That's why they try to block [the punt] every time. Well, some of their schemes are returns, but they have at least one guy blocking every time."

* The Redskins' offensive line is battered, but sort of intact. Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth practiced on the ankles they sprained in Indianapolis. Coach Jim Hanifan can write down a starter and backup at each position -- or he writes McKenzie's name in three places and Joe Jacoby's at two.

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