Brandon Noble wasn't sure if his knee would hold up. No one was. But all he could do was try.
The 6-2, 304-pound defensive tackle returned to action this season after missing all of 2003. He suffered torn ligaments in his left knee in a preseason game and his career was in jeopardy.
This season, Noble has played in every game so far, alternating with Joe Salave'a for playing time, and has not suffered a setback of any sort on his surgically repaired knee.
Earlier this month, Noble's teammates voted him the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to the team's player who has overcome and fought through injuries.
"It's a great honor," Noble said. "It was definitely something that when you're coming back, you realize that it's there. When you have an injury liked like I did, it gets noticed a little bit more just because of the nature of the injury and how drastic it was."
Noble doesn't look back, but others do.
"There are a lot of guys who don't come back from that injury," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said.
Williams has used Noble's remarkable comeback as inspiration and motivation for his defense.
"He is the epitome of toughness on the defensive line," Williams said. "I've used his name several times when guys thought that they had an injury. I'd tell them, 'Go to Brandon for sympathy. If Brandon gives you sympathy, then I'll give you sympathy.'
"Brandon has done a tremendous job coming back and I'm very proud of him. He is an example of the kinds of guys that Joe Gibbs talks about: the tough Redskins he wants to build around. He's been a very good example for our defensive front."
Noble, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., joined the Redskins prior to the 2003 season after four seasons in Dallas, this Sunday's opponent. He started 32 consecutive games for the Cowboys in 2001-02, but was eager to return to the east coast. Noble played collegiate football at Penn State.
This season, the Redskins' defense is ranked second overall and third in run defense. Noble has played a key role in stuffing the run this season. In the first game between the Redskins and Dallas, the Cowboys were held to just 50 yards rushing.
The last three weeks, the defense has held the San Francisco 49ers to just 55 rushing yards, the Philadelphia Eagles to just 67 rushing yards and the New York Giants to just 38 rushing yards.
This season, Noble has recorded 32 tackles (17 solo) and one sack on a Redskins' defensive line that has thrived without a major name.
"That's the way the whole defense is," Noble said. "We have a group of guys here where we don't have one big superstar or a guy with one huge ego. That makes it real easy to come to work. You know every day we're going to be working hard on the field and giving it everything they have on Sunday."