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RKE. Times: 'Skins trying to work through '3-year plan'


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Newest batch of free agents not short-term fixes

'Skins trying to work through '3-year plan'

For the first time since Norv Turner was fired, Washington should have the same coach and defensive scheme for two years.



The long and winding road the Washington Redskins have followed since being purchased four years ago by Daniel Snyder has finally led to a place previously unknown to the organization: stability.

For the first time since 1999, a Redskins head coach will almost certainly complete a second season. That would give Steve Spurrier an advantage over Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie and Marty Schottenheimer.

Despite the loss of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to the head-coaching post in Cincinnati, Washington will play virtually the same defensive system a second consecutive season for the first time since Snyder's arrival.

Also for the first time, the backroom intrigue regarding who owns the authority to do what has faded. The organization actually seems to have a strategy in place that wasn't scrawled on a ****tail napkin between sips of single-malt scotch at a boys' night out.

There's no formal name for it, at least not one that's been made public, but outsiders have dubbed it, "The Three-Year Plan."

Snyder didn't ease off the gas during the offseason, signing nine free agents who likely will start Thursday night against the New York Jets. Unlike Deion Sanders and Jeff George, troubled mercenaries whose better days had been spent elsewhere, Washington's new prospects should be entering the prime of their careers.

"Most of these players will be around for three years, and longer," vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said. "There's not going to be a large purge of players every year over the next three years. It allows you to build, work together and get better. You can build some chemistry."

Receiver Laveranues Coles, who received a $13 million signing bonus to leave the Jets, gives the Redskins the two ingredients Spurrier sorely lacked last season: speed and playmaking skills.

His ability to draw defenders should increase the production of holdover Rod Gardner, a third-year pro just coming into his own.

Also added were three other Jets: guard Randy Thomas, kicker John Hall and kick returner Chad Morton. All represent a huge upgrade over the players they replaced.

There were more of the same type of moves on defense, although one of them backfired when free-agent tackle Brandon Noble was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Safety Matt Bowen started only a couple of games for a stacked Green Bay secondary last season but was considered a steal for the Redskins, who surrendered a sixth-round pick for him.

End Regan Upshaw has seven years in the league and a tender knee, but also has the potential to take some of the pressure off Bruce Smith and put some heat on opposing passers.

Forced to go shopping after they released Dan Wilkinson and Noble was injured, the Redskins seem to have brought home serviceable defensive tackles in Jermaine Haley, Bernard Holsey, James Cannida and Martin Chase. They're barely household names on their own block, but they all appear to play unselfishly and don't mind doing the dirty work.

Sometimes, players like that make the team worth more than the sum of its parts. The Redskins are counting on it, although they admit they continue to seek help for that spot.

The biggest gamble was trading a fourth-round pick to St.Louis for running back Trung Canidate. The Redskins reasoned that they received a former No.1 pick who was playing little with the Rams only because Marshall Faulk was in front of him.

Canidate has breakaway speed and could give the offense a dimension lacking when Stephen Davis, now with Carolina, was the workhorse.

Yet, it will all go for naught if second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey doesn't develop into the kind of player the 'Skins thought he'd be when they made him a first-round pick in 2002.

He didn't get a huge chance to show his wares last season. A holdout cost him significant time in training camp, and Spurrier spent the early weeks of the season wedded to the notion that ex-Florida quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel would rekindle their glory days running his Fun 'n' Gun offense.

When that didn't happen, Spurrier turned to former Tulane star Ramsey, with mixed results. In five starts, he passed for 1,539 yards and nine touchdowns. He also threw eight interceptions, completed barely more than half his attempts and at times struggled with Spurrier's concept of how to run the offense.

"Night and day," Ramsey said when asked how it felt being in charge of that same offense now after having spent the offseason in almost daily consultation with Spurrier and his assistants.

No coach asks his quarterback to do more than Spurrier does. The offense is designed for the quarterback to frequently change plays at the line of scrimmage, to read and recognize the opponent's defense and audible accordingly.

Ramsey has the smarts to handle that and the arm to make the deep throws that separate Spurrier's scheme from the rest of the league. He also has the courage to stand in the pocket until the last second before releasing the ball. Last season, that meant he didn't see many of his completions because he was on his back. That, too, figures to change, thanks to a rebuilt offensive line.

Spurrier expects to improve, too, with a year under his belt. He admits he was misguided in his loyalty to so many former Gators. None were as good as Spurrier's memory of them. All have departed.

He also has vowed to run a more balanced attack, but if Ramsey, Coles, Gardner and several speedy but untested receivers click the way Spurrier envisions, that's a promise on which he'll be happy to renege.

"I think we've all learned," Cerrato said. "It's a process that over time you learn how you want to do it and you get comfortable with it. That's where we are."

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