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Redskins banking hopes on Stubblefield

Even while running drills without pads, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield is still a sight for sore eyes for Washington Redskins fans.

Stubblefield, the $36-million free-agent pickup from the San Francisco 49ers, has the size, experience and ability to shore up the weakness that may have kept the Redskins out of the playoffs the past two years: stopping the run.

Washington was 28th in the NFL against the run last season, surrendering about 137 yards per game. No team gave up more first downs on the ground than the 129 the Redskins allowed. To fix this, Washington signed not only 6-foot-2, 313-pound Stubblefield but also tackle Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson (6-5, 315), a former Cincinnati Bengal.

"By me bringing what I have, and where I've been and some of the things I've been through to this team, it's going to help tremendously," said Stubblefield, who reached the playoffs in each of five years with the 49ers. "We were always expected to win _ not just in the regular season but the playoff games as well."

The playoffs are a place Washington has not been since coach Joe Gibbs' final season in 1992. Redskins coach Norv Turner thinks Stubblefield and Wilkinson may be the missing ingredients in Washington's quest to return.

"(Stubblefield and Wilkinson) are two big explosive guys," Turner said. "We're only in sweats (during last weekend's minicamp) and they still give you that impression. Right now they're just basically trying to get their footwork down and basic stuff to our defense. We're pretty confident of what we have with them."

Said general manager Charley Casserly: "They can't double-team both of them."

If Stubblefield duplicates his efforts of last season, then management's confidence will be well-rewarded. Stubblefield, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was arguably the NFL's best defensive linemen in 1997, ringing up a career-best 15.5 sacks to go along with solid play against the run.

The Redskins hope Stubblefield's inside presence opens things up for young defensive ends Kenard Lang and Rich Owens.

"These guys are good players," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "So the expectations for them are higher. But we're meshing them with good players we already have. So, hopefully, they won't have to come and be looked at as saviors."

FALCONS: Linebacker Cornelius Bennett surrendered to begin serving a 60-day sexual abuse sentence.

Bennett pleaded guilty in September to misdemeanor sex abuse stemming from an encounter with a longtime acquaintance in a Buffalo hotel room in May.

Bennett thanked his wife, Kimberley, for standing by him, calling her "the epitome of the word "woman.' "

"Although this is not the outcome that we hoped for, I am very glad that this chapter of my life is almost over," Bennett told the Buffalo News. He said he took comfort in having "committed my life to Christ."

A bench warrant was issued Wednesday when Bennett failed to show up to go to jail. It was to take effect at midnight Thursday. Bennett's attorney said Bennett had trouble getting a flight from Georgia to Buffalo.

OILERS: Defensive end Kendrick Burton, suspended for the 1997 season by the NFL for violating league drug policy, has been cleared to return, his agent said. Burton is expected to participate in the Oilers' minicamp, which begins Monday, agent Philip Williams said. Burton has been working out with teammates in Nashville, Williams said.

CARDINALS: Quarterback Dave Brown, who signed a two-year contract Wednesday, is getting a $200,000 signing bonus, then a $900,000 salary the first year and $1.4-million the next, the Arizona Republic reported.