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WRH: High expectations mark the 2004 Redskins


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High expectations mark the 2004 Redskins


By Shaun Smith Special to The Record Herald

Joe Gibbs (left) is enthusiastic about his return to the NFL, while starting quarterback Mark Brunell is looking forward to playing under Gibbs.


ASHBURN, VA. - In January, the Washington Redskins started off their off-season by hiring an old friend in Joe Gibbs as the team president and head coach.

Since then, members of the team and their fans have been a buzz of enthusiasm and high expectations.

On Sunday, the Redskins take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their opening game of the 2004 season and start what they hope is another ride on the Gibbs Train of Success.

Gibbs orchestrated the Redskins' greatest decade, leading them to three Super Bowl titles between 1982-91.

He won 140 games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in '96. Now his task is to revive the Redskins after the two-year experiment with Steve Spurrier failed miserably. Gibbs' preparation and attention to detail alone will be an improvement.

"The man has the Midas touch," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, playing for his fifth coach in five years. "The tide could be turning. I've been around long enough not to put my foot in my mouth, but we will be a good team because we are a well-coached team. It's never been a lack of talent."

Second time around

It is yet to be seen if Gibbs can repeat the history of his first tenure in his second stint with the Redskins, but what can be seen is Gibbs' excitement for the game has not left him.

"Certainly I am nervous and anxious about it. We open with a real good football team and every week is going to be a life and death struggle," Gibbs said about returning to the game.

Training camps, the past couple of years, were light in pads and contact and not as exhaustive as what Gibbs has put his troops through this season. Most practices consisted of full gear and sessions within the practice where the offensive went against the defense full speed with an emphasis on conditioning.

No matter how hard the practices, Gibbs earned instant respect and admiration from his players when he walked through the door for the first time in January.

When asked about playing for Gibbs, corner back Fred Smoot said "You can't go out there and let him down. It's kind of like playing for my granddad. He doesn't have to cuss you; he doesn't have to do anything. He can look at you and just smile, but you know he means business. That is someone you want to go out there and lay it on the line for."

Brunell named starter

Prior to the Redskins' preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons Gibbs named Mark Brunell the starting quarterback for the regular season. Brunell beat out incumbent starter Patrick Ramsey for the position.

"We're going to go with Mark," Gibbs said. "With Patrick, I talked to him for a long time about how much he means to us and what we think of him. And nothing's changed. He's smart and tough and we're looking forward to a long future with him."

Gibbs said he made the announcement now so that Brunell and the wide receivers corps can get their timing down prior to the first regular-season game.

"We'll spend more time getting timed up on our passing game because I think we need that," Gibbs said. "We haven't been able to get that down because the quarterbacks have been in and out, in and out."

Brunell remarked on his approach to preseason compared to the regular season, "My approach stays the same. Obviously, there'll be more opportunities to throw in practice, but when you're out there, you compete, work hard and do what you can do to put the team in the best position to win."

Offensive outlook

The biggest acquisition of the off-season for the Redskins was the trade of corner Champ Bailey for running back Clinton Portis.

Coming off two 1,500-yard seasons, Portis better become the Energizer Bunny, with Gibbs calling the plays. Portis could hit the 2,000-yard mark if he stays healthy by week 15.

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was moved to the X receiver in the Gibbs system, making him susceptible to catch a few long fade routes this season. Coles will make the big impact he made last year for the team, maybe bigger if his injured big toe stays healthy enough.

Offensive line coach Joe Bugel's "Hogs" of old are now the "Dirtbags." His men took a hit in the preseason opener when they lost right tackle Jon Jansen for the season, but look for the head dirtbag to take charge and make one of the league's best lines this season. They only gave up three sacks in five preseason games, a league best, so look for them to be stable and only give up as few as 20 this season. Not bad, considering they gave up 20 by game seven last year.

Defensive outlook

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, formerly head coach of the Bills, plans an aggressive attack with his defense but some concerns still loom large.

The lack of a huge playmaker along the defensive line remains an issue with the team. The Redskins tried to improve their defensive line with free agents Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin, though the front four's pass rush remains lackluster.

Arrington, playing for his fifth coordinator, has to learn a new role - again. After four years on the strong side, he's been moved to the weak side. He'll also play right end on passing downs. He's capable of a huge season, especially if he becomes a little more disciplined.

Free-agent signee Marcus Washington has looked excellent in camp on the strong side. But middle linebacker Mike Barrow has been bothered by a knee injury most of the preseason. Though smart and steady, he's 34, making his health a big concern. Heady backup Antonio Pierce can play all three spots and has been a great replacement in the preseason for Barrow.

The Redskins essentially replaced Bailey with Shawn Springs. They only need the athletic Springs to stay healthy and play close to Bailey's level. Smoot must prove he can handle regular duty against top receivers with Bailey gone, as the corners will be in man coverage often and likely will alternate facing the best wideouts.

Rookie safety Sean Taylor, with his size and speed, will be a major playmaker. He allows Matt Bowen to return to strong safety, where his speed and aggressiveness make him a good fit in Williams' defense.

Special teams

The biggest difference this season is the emphasis placed on the special teams units by Gibbs. Fiery special-teams coach Danny Smith had the final say with several roster spots. The kicking game should be fine with veteran punter Tom Tupa and placekicker John Hall. Long-snapper Ethan Albright is consistent. Chad Morton was OK last year returning kicks, but nothing special. Look for improved punt returns by him. Depth at linebacker should boost the coverage units.


Last season, the talent was there but the lack of coaching and discipline was a major factor in a 5-11 season.

I predicted this team would finish in the 8-8 or 9-7 range last year because of the talent. If I would have known that Ramsey was going to become a punching bag for all defenses they faced, I would have certainly predicted differently.

On-field discipline, work ethic and late night coaching meetings between Gibbs and his assistant coaches will make this team better this season. Ten wins is the key to the playoffs with the newer realignment of the divisions. If the 2004 Redskins do not crack the 10-win barrier look for a 9-7 season with a lot of good things to build on going into the off-season.

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