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Philly Daily News: 'Skins think offense will be more 'Fun'


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Posted on Thu, Aug. 28, 2003

'Skins think offense will be more 'Fun'

Added big-time playmakers in offseason



ASHBURN, Va. - Sixteen games as an NFL head coach introduced Steve Spurrier to something he never knew during his 15 years prowling college sidelines at the University of Florida and Duke.


As he prepares for his second season with the Washington Redskins, Spurrier isn't walking with the same $5 million-a-year swagger or talking with the same which-way-to-the-Super-Bowl self-assuredness that he did a year ago when he had the temerity to suggest that conquering the NFC East would be kid's stuff compared with dominating the Southeastern Conference.

He thought he'd be able to outsmart everybody, just as he did in Gainesville. He thought that if he rounded up enough ex-Gators and plugged them into his Fun 'n Gun offense, his team would slice through defenses.

He thought wrong. Spurrier's Redskins finished 21st in the league in passing, 25th in points scored, lost five of their six division games and finished 7-9, one more loss than they had the year before under Marty Schottenheimer.

"I didn't have very realistic expectations last year," Spurrier acknowledged. "And I didn't coach as well as I needed to. I learned that, to win in this league, you need a good team with good players.''

Not a problem when you work for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, whose immediate goal in life seems to be to give away as much money to as many NFL free agents as possible.

In his never-ending quest to buy a Super Bowl, Snyder has spent nearly $100 million on free-agent signing bonuses since purchasing the Redskins 4 years ago. That's roughly one-eighth of what he paid for the franchise and FedEx Field.

So far, he hasn't gotten much of a return. The 'Skins have had three straight non-winning seasons.

That didn't discourage Snyder from going on yet another shopping spree this past offseason. With an eye toward upgrading the offense, the Redskins handed out more than $30 million in signing bonuses. The biggest difference this time around, though, is that Snyder didn't confine his shopping to the geriatric department.

They zeroed in on the New York Jets and pirated away lightening-fast 25-year-old wide receiver Laveranues Coles, 27-year-old guard Randy Thomas and 26-year-old running back and return ace Chad Morton. They also signed 26-year-old Packers safety Matt Bowen, a restricted free agent, and traded for 26-year-old running back Trung Canidate.

Coles, who had a breakout season last year, catching 89 passes for 1,264 yards, signed a 7-year, $35 million deal that included a $13 million signing bonus. Thomas was given a $7 million signing bonus as part of a 7-year, $27.6 million deal. Morton, who had 58 kickoff returns last year, signed a 5-year, $7.94 million contract with a $2.5 million signing bonus.

"We filled some holes that we needed to fill," said right tackle Jon Jansen, one of only two current starters who have been with the Redskins longer than 3 years. "We filled them with guys that are more than capable and experienced, yet are still relatively young. So we can stay together for a while."

With Coles and Canidate, Spurrier has the kind of speed that fuels the Fun 'n Gun. Last season, with Rod Gardner as his only legitimate deep threat, and power runner Stephen Davis a bad fit in Spurrier's offense, the Redskins had just 36 offensive plays of 20 yards or more. Only seven teams had fewer. By comparison, the Eagles had 65.

Asked whether Coles and Canidate provide more big-play potential, Spurrier replied: "That's what we're hoping for. When you acquire speed, you're hoping to create separation and make big plays. The theory behind this offense is that we want to move the ball downfield at all times and make completions. But we're always looking for that one big strike. That's what guys like [Coles and Canidate] provide.''

Canidate, the Rams' 2000 first-round pick, is one of the league's fastest running backs. But in St. Louis, he was an oft-hurt backup to Marshall Faulk and had just 21 touches (17 carries, four receptions) last season.

"I'm really excited about having these guys," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. "When you've got the kind of speed we're going to be putting out there this year, it gives you big-play potential every down. These guys can create more separation potential. That increases my margin of error as far as where I can put the football.''

Ramsey's development will be the biggest key to the Redskins' success this season. He struggled as a rookie last year, completing just 51.5 percent of his passes in five starts as Spurrier rotated him with ex-Gators Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews.

The club selected Ramsey in the first round of the '02 draft, even though Spurrier had little input into the decision. The Redskins coach never even worked him out before the draft.

"I think he has a lot more confidence in me today than he did last year," Ramsey said. "Last year, he felt a lot of it was on his shoulders as far as calling the right play. I think he has a little bit more trust in me this year, as far as my understanding of what he wants. Sometimes I don't do it right. But he knows that, for the most part, I try to understand what he wants from the quarterback position.''

Because of their Gator ties, both Wuerffel, who still is on the Redskins' roster, and Matthews had a much better understanding of the Fun 'n Gun offense than Ramsey. The problem is, they don't have nearly as much talent.

"Patrick is strong, tough and competitive," quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise said. "And he's got one of the best arms in the league. He really has what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback.''

Ramsey displayed some of his potential in a 34-21 mid-December loss to the Eagles, as he completed 23 of 35 passes for 213 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Last year was pretty difficult for me," Ramsey said. "I held out, then had to learn under fire. I basically learned our offense through the game plan each week, which is kind of tough. After spending the whole offseason working with coach Spurrier, it's much different now. I'm not thinking as much as reacting and just playing the position. I feel good about where I am.''

Ramsey seems to be earning his offensive teammates' trust and confidence.

"He brings a spark,'' Coles said. "There are a lot of things I could say about him abilitywise. But what I like best about him is that he brings an attitude out there to the huddle. He wants the ball. He's a competitor.''

Jansen, who has blocked for more quarterbacks than he cares to remember since the Redskins selected him in the second round of the '99 draft, also has been impressed by Ramsey.

"His confidence is a lot higher than last year," he said. "I've been impressed by the way he's getting us in and out of the huddle and into different plays at the line of scrimmage, and just his poise. He's making smart checks at the line and not getting rattled.

"He spent a lot of time in the offseason watching film. Learning to recognize what defenses were doing. Learning how they disguise what they're doing. The hardest thing for a young quarterback is anticipating what's coming. He's done an excellent job of mentally preparing himself for the season.''

While the offense figures to be more productive, there are potential problems on defense.

Last year's defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, left to become the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach. He's been replaced by George Edwards, who was the club's linebackers coach.

Both of last year's defensive tackles are gone. Daryl Gardener, a key to the fifth-ranked defense last year, signed with Denver. Dan Wilkinson was released when he wouldn't agree to a pay cut. Ex-Cowboy Brandon Noble came in to replace Gardener, but tore up his knee in the first preseason game and is out for the season. The effectiveness of the Redskins' three playmaking linebackers - LaVar Arrington, ex-Eagle Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead - hinges on having tackles in front of them who can occupy blockers.

"It's not a big concern for me,'' said Armstead, whose age - he turns 33 in October - could become a concern for Edwards as the season goes along. "I know the type of player I am. I'm not going to worry about the guys up front. We still have guys who can squeeze and hold plays for us. I'm ready to ride with the guys we have.''

So is Spurrier. He's ditched the brash talk. He's not predicting a division title again. Ask him what he thinks of the Redskins' playoff chances this season and the most he'll say is that he's "cautiously optimistic.''

"We think we have better players at a lot of key positions on offense,'' he said. "Talentwise, we've improved. But we've still got to go out and prove it.''

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Only part I didn't like was the:

"In his never-ending quest to buy a Super Bowl, Snyder has spent nearly $100 million on free-agent signing bonuses since purchasing the Redskins 4 years ago" please now what is wrong with having an owner that actually tries whatever it takes to produce of winner irregardless to his personal wealth??

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Only part I didn't like was the:

"In his never-ending quest to buy a Super Bowl, Snyder has spent nearly $100 million on free-agent signing bonuses since purchasing the Redskins 4 years ago" please now what is wrong with having an owner that actually tries whatever it takes to produce of winner irregardless to his personal wealth??

Good point Rabid Fan! I always wonder about all the critisizm that Snyder gets about putting his money into the organization. He is an owner that is also a fan. Instead of just sitting by while Norv drove this team into the ground he is working to fix it. As a fan I would think that an owner like Snyder is much better than one that does nothing.

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