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Redskins Have That Old Feeling

Gibbs Back For Encore Performance

By Jeff Nations

The Winchester Star


ASHBURN — Gregg Williams had a little present to new Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs on the first day of summer training camp.

As Gibbs looked on with horror, Williams — his new defensive assistant head coach — had all 11 of his defenders swarm quarterback Mark Brunell in an all-out blitz. Williams’ crew pulled up at the last second, but the message was delivered loud and clear.

Welcome back to the NFL, coach.

The return of Gibbs, already a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach, was undoubtedly the biggest off-season move made by a Washington franchise desperate to return to the glory days of, well, Gibbs.


Rookie Sean Taylor takes a breather while offensive tackle Chris Samuels (below)

watches the action.

(Photos by Rick Foster)


And despite the numbing regularity of new head coaches in Washington — five in the last five years —the Redskins have talked fondly of a new attitude brought in by the new coaching staff.

“Last year’s been behind us,” Redskins guard Randy Thomas said of his team’s disappointing 5-11 season under former coach Steve Spurrier, who resigned after a two-year record of 12-20. “Spurrier left — we put it behind. We knew it was going to be a fresh start, whoever came in. When coach Gibbs came in, we all felt like rookies.”

Gibbs can relate. After 12 years out of football, Gibbs had some catching up to do with the current state of the NFL. The biggest difference, Gibbs admits, is in acquiring talent. After 1993 — the year a Gibbs retired after leading the Redskins to three Super Bowl championships — the league instituted relaxed free agency rules and mandated a salary cap on all teams designed to level the playing field and possibly prevent dynasties like the one Gibbs created in his first stint (1981-1993) with Washington.

But Gibbs is a fast learner, and equipped with owner Daniel Snyder’s seemingly endless cash supply he went out and acquired talent to suit his style of play.

The biggest free-agent signee of the off-season was quarterback Mark Brunell, an 11-year veteran brought in to lead the offense. While Gibbs said from the outset that incumbent starter Patrick Ramsey would have an equal shot at the starting assignment, it was clear that Brunell was his man. Early on, Ramsey demanded a trade before ironing things out with his new coach.

And Brunell outplayed Ramsey in the preseason, finally earning official starter status before Washington’s final preseason game.

Looking to upgrade a running game that played second fiddle to Spurrier’s pass-first philosophy, Gibbs pulled off a trade that sent Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for star running back Clinton Portis.

Portis, just three years into his NFL career, has already rushed for over 3,000 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. He represents a major upgrade over last year’s starter Trung Canidate (600 rushing yards), who was released in the off-season.

Under Gibbs, Portis could be even better this season.


Washington receiver Rod Gardner takes a break.

(Photo by Rick Foster)

“We are running the ball and I am so happy about that,” Redskins starting tackle Chris Samuels said.

The primary backups for Portis in the Redskins’ offense are Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright, who combined for 666 yards rushing and six touchdowns last year.

In his two seasons, Spurrier did manage to assemble a talented group of receivers and the majority of that unit remains intact.

Laveranues Coles went to the Pro Bowl after leading the Redskins with 82 catches for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns.

Physical wideout Rod Gardner (59 catches for 600 yards), and Darnerian McCants are also reliable receivers, while former first-round pick Taylor Jacobs showed enough in preseason to keep his spot on the team.

Rookie Chris Cooley (Utah State) will begin the season at the H-back spot. Veteran Brian Kozlowski, another free-agent signee, provides a proven alternative should Cooley falter.

The offensive line looked to be in much better shape until the first preseason game, when starting right tackle Jon Jansen was lost for the year with a knee injury. Jansen had started 82 straight games for Washington and was being counted on as the main protector for the left-handed Brunell.

“It was tough, it was really tough,” said Ramsey, one of Jansen’s best friends on the team. “You could tell immediately when Jon stays down it’s going to be something serious. I’ve never seen him consider staying (down) on the field.”

Further adding to Gibbs’ worries are the nagging injuries Thomas and Samuels are still dealing with heading into Sunday’s opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Free agent Kenyatta Jones will replace Jansen at right tackle, with Lennie Friedman at center and Derrick Dockery at the other guard spot.

Walter Rasby and Robert Royal should both see plenty of time at tight end.

While Gibbs nabbed some high-profile names for his offense, perhaps his most significant move came with his coaching staff. Although he surrounded himself with much of his old staff — namely Joe Bugel (offensive assistant head coach) and Don Breaux (offensive coordinator) — Gibbs went out and grabbed some of the best defensive coaching talent available by bringing in Williams and Greg Blache (defensive coordinator).

Williams, fired after three seasons as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, had his defense ranked as the second-best in the NFL in 2003.

Like Gibbs, details are important to Williams.

“Coach Williams puts up these stat sheets that are just like things that you’ve never seen before,” said defensive tackle Brandon Noble. “Just the numbers he can throw out off the top of his head are incredible.

“And then when you’re on the field, just the smallest little things — like when you step, which way your toe is pointing, or where your hand is, or where your body is facing — just the tiniest little things. And in the NFL it’s a lot of things that get looked over, just the fact that we’re all professionals and we’ve all been around.

“A lot of times coaches will let you slide on things. Well, right now, they’re not letting anybody slide. And that’s what this group of guys needed.”

In Williams’ aggressive scheme, the biggest beneficiary could be Redskins’ All-Pro linebacker LaVar Arrington. Last season, Arrington recorded 116 tackles (second-best on team), posted six sacks, and forced a career-high seven fumbles.

The Redskins dipped into the free-agent market to fill the other two starting linebacker spots in Williams’ 4-3 alignment. Veteran Mike Barrow, brought in to replace the released Jeremiah Trotter, missed the entire preseason with a knee injury. Washington also picked up free agent Marcus Washington from the Indianapolis Colts as a speedy upgrade from former starter Jessie Armstead.

The defensive line, a major concern last season, also got an overhaul during the off-season.

Free-agent signees Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a will start at defensive tackle, while holdover Renaldo Wynn is back as a starter at defensive end.

Veteran Regan Upshaw, expected to start at the other defensive end position, instead was among the last group of cuts made by Gibbs’ staff.

Backup Greg White or Ron Warner, who had an impressive preseason, could take Upshaw’s spot in the starting lineup.

With Bailey gone to Denver, the pressure is on cornerback Fred Smoot. Last season, Bailey regularly drew the opposing team’s best wide receiver. Smoot has that job now.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve been a bend but don’t break defense and right now we’re an aggressive defense, and an attacking defense,” said Smoot, who had 58 tackles and four interceptions last year. “It’s a defense that I can make a lot of plays in. It’s what I’ve been really waiting on. This could be my biggest season ever.”

Talented but oft-injured Shawn Springs was brought in as a free agent to replace Bailey at the other corner position.

Matt Bowen is back at strong safety, while Andre Lott is the starter — for now — at free safety. Lott’s job security was in jeopardy the moment the Redskins selected Sean Taylor with their first-round draft pick (fifth overall). It should just be a matter of time before Taylor cracks the starting lineup.

“What he does is cover a lot of ground,” Gibbs said of Taylor. “I think he’s also very aggressive. All those things make for a very good safety.”

Special teams will have much the same look as last season, with dependable kicker John Hall and electrifying return man Chad Morton back in starting roles. Veteran Tom Tupa was brought in as the team’s new punter.

Gibbs, never one to give much away, didn’t have any bold predictions on his coaching comeback.

“One thing about pro sports is you have a lot of ups and downs,” Gibbs said. “That tests a lot of people. Two things that are hard to deal with are adversity and success. Chances are you are going to get a little bit of both, so it will be interesting to see how everybody adjusts to that.”


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the guy totally forgot about Phillip Daniels at DE :laugh:

he said that Upshaw was slated to start and since his surprise departure that Ron Warner would get the chance.

according to my depth chart, Upshaw was never the acknowledged starter but rather a caretaker until Daniels came back from injury.

Warner is the #3 right now.

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