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Spurrier Is 'Cautiously Optimistic'


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By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, July 17, 2003; Page D01

Washington Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier won't be the talk of the league when his players report to training camp in 10 days. His leap from college football to the NFL is a year-old story line now, and two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells has grabbed the spotlight with his return to coaching with the Dallas Cowboys. Spurrier said he couldn't be happier.

As he sat in his office at Redskins Park this week, making his final camp preparations before leaving town for a celebrity golf tournament, Spurrier said he feels good about the club's offseason moves and likes how his roster has taken shape as he enters his second training camp as an NFL head coach. He indicated that he isn't concerned about the one major lineup question facing him in camp, saying he expects two or three of his tailbacks to share the duty of being the team's featured runner. But the man who was one of the nation's most blunt and outspoken college coaches while at the University of Florida said he will take a low-key approach regarding his expectations for the Redskins this season, and he wants his players to do the same.

"We are approaching it with cautious optimism," Spurrier said. "Somebody said to me, 'You said you were going to be pretty good last year.' Well, I was wrong. Everybody is optimistic this time of the year, but we're trying to be a little bit more cautiously optimistic. We believe we've got better players at lots of key positions on offense -- the two guards, wide receiver, the running backs with more speed back there. We feel like talent-wise, we've improved our team. But we've got to go prove it during the games."

A year ago, Spurrier was typically straightforward, entering his rookie season as an NFL coach saying he expected the Redskins to win the NFC East. He was the center of attention after signing a five-year, $25 million contract with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. But his offense sputtered and the Redskins struggled to a record of 7-9.

Snyder retooled Spurrier's offense with a string of free agent acquisitions that will put the Redskins back among the league's biggest spenders this season with a projected player payroll of about $86 million. Snyder lured wide receiver Laveranues Coles from the New York Jets for a deal that included a $13 million signing bonus, and patched up the middle of the offensive line by signing guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore. Patrick Ramsey, who takes over as the team's starting quarterback, said recently: "If you can't be excited about this, you shouldn't be playing."

Snyder said he has budgeted to keep his current club basically intact for three seasons, and Redskins officials are eager to see how far they can progress this year. But Spurrier is making no prognostications.

"I don't think we should even talk about how far we can go," he said. "We've got to start playing the season and see where we are. We've got to play first and talk second. Our expectations are going to be high always. I don't think you can ever go into a season saying our expectations are not up there. But still, in terms of how good our team becomes or doesn't become, we're going to have to play our way through it."

Spurrier said last season that if the team still hadn't improved after his third season with the Redskins, he probably would tell Snyder to find another coach. That leaves little room for patience, and now he is entrusting his offense to a second-year quarterback with five starts on his NFL resume. Spurrier did not readjust his timetable this week, but said he is not focusing on such down-the-road matters at this point.

"I think what I said, every coach almost has to say because after three years if you still have losing records, they're going to try somebody else," Spurrier said. "That's common nowadays. We're looking at one year at a time. Actually we're looking at one practice, one week, and then you go one game, one season at a time. . . . We think we've got a better team than we had last year. But until we go prove it, it's just all thought and belief right now."

Spurrier has moved camp back to the team's regular season training facility in Ashburn, and his players are scheduled to report July 27 and practice the following the day. One of Spurrier's most significant training-camp tasks will be to sort out his tailback situation. The Redskins traded for speedster Trung Canidate to replace Stephen Davis, who departed as a free agent, as their starter. But fellow newcomer Chad Morton and holdovers Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson also will be vying for roster spots and carries, and Spurrier said he wouldn't be surprised to end up with a running-back-by-committee system.

"I've got a feeling that we'll probably play two or three as we go, which a lot of teams do," Spurrier said. "There's nothing wrong with that. Ladell Betts, Trung, Chad Morton and Kenny, they all do a lot of good things. . . . It will sort of work its way out, who plays the most at tailback."

Redskins Notes: The team filled out its scouting staff yesterday by announcing four hires. Marcus Dupree, the one-time standout running back at the University of Oklahoma who most recently served as the general manager of an Arena League team, and former Redskins quarterback Cary Conklin, who played for the club between 1990 and '93, were hired as college scouts. Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' vice president of football operations, hired Foge Fazio, the club's former linebackers coach who was forced out as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator following last season, as a special assistant and Mike Kelly, a former Philadelphia Eagles scout, as a pro scout. . . . Redskins officials plan to begin contract negotiations in earnest next week with their three draft choices -- second-round wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, third-round guard Derrick Dockery and seventh-round quarterback Gibran Hamdan.

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