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Lohmiller kick-starts Redskins


HERNDON, Va. -- His right leg is strong from a summer's rest. His mind is clear of the debris that clutters the brain cells of most place-kickers. His job is safe and secure.

All is right in Chip Lohmiller's world these days.

All except for the golf, that is. The golf has not gone well, not since he played in a celebrity tournament at Lake Tahoe last summer.

"I haven't played much lately," the Washington Redskins place-kicker said yesterday. "After the tournament, I tossed my [golf] bag in the closet."

Lohmiller is a 5-handicap golfer and a prolific field-goal scoring machine. While golf is a part-time passion, football is what pays the bills. Counting the four long field goals he nailed in Texas Stadium on Monday night in a 33-31 victory over Dallas, he has hit 17 in a row in a streak that started last December. His Texas performance earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Indeed, Lohmiller is a big reason the Redskins are 2-0 and will play Phoenix, also 2-0, for the NFC East lead Sunday at RFK Stadium (1 p.m., Ch. 11). He is becoming the most reliable weapon in an offense noted for its reliability. And it's not just the field goals. Eight times in the first two games of the season, his long, knuckle-balling kickoffs were unreturnable by the opposition.

"My leg is much stronger than it's been in the past," said Lohmiller, 25. "I changed my routine this year. I didn't kick as much in the offseason."

In 50 games with the Redskins since he was a second-round draft pick in 1988, Lohmiller has scored 380 points, an average of better than seven a game. He has been successful on 83 of 111 regular-season kicks, a .747 percentage. That includes six game-winning kicks, too.

"Chip has taken the step to the next level," said his agent, Tony Agnone.

Special teams coach Wayne Sevier put it this way: "He is about to be, if not the best, on the same level as the best you want to name. Gary Anderson . . . Morten Andersen . . . Nick Lowery . . . he's in that level."

And then there's head coach Joe Gibbs. "He's marvelous," Gibbs said. "[But] I don't go near him. That's Wayne's job."

The Redskins clearly are appreciative of the job Lohmiller has done. Agnone said they have quietly begun negotiations to extend his contract, which expires after this year.

Lohmiller doesn't fit the NFL prototype for a place-kicker. He is neither eccentric nor flaky. At 6 feet 3 and 213 pounds, he is more athletic than most kickers. In high school in Minnesota, he played strong safety and wide receiver in addition to place-kicking and punting. He also played hockey, baseball and golf. But what really separates him from the pack is his "Easy Rider" mentality.

A poor kick "doesn't weigh on him," said Sevier. "He keeps everything in good perspective. Chip has as good emotional balance as anybody I've been around."

Agnone remembers Lohmiller's rookie season when that wasn't necessarily the case. Three weeks after he kicked a field goal to beat Pittsburgh, Lohmiller missed a 36-yarder at RFK in a 24-23 loss to the New York Giants.

"Chip was very low," Agnone said. "He realized then that this can be very fleeting."

Lohmiller said he learned to achieve an even keel while kicking for Lou Holtz at the University of Minnesota.

"He helped me out with positive thinking and positive imagery," Lohmiller said. "My first-ever game in college my freshman year, my kickoffs were terrible and I missed a 40-yarder and a 35-yarder. He called me into his office out of a team

meeting and we had a talk. He said if I can do it in practice, I can do it in a game situation. He said I should have confidence in myself."

Lowmiller has been remarkably consistent -- and confident -- in his NFL career. Since missing four-of-six field-goal attempts against Philadelphia last October, he has converted 25 of his last 28 chances.

"There's no such thing as going into a slump," he said. "You're not going to make a kick every single time. Sometimes [the misses] may come in a row.

"I don't worry about those things. That's one of the things I do best. I just look at it as a chance to go out and kick the ball. I just want to do my job."

The Redskins have no complaints.

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