For Washington Redskins, strange re-start for strange NFL season

The strangest point in the nearly five months of the NFL lockout, as far as the Washington Redskins are concerned, may have come late Thursday afternoon. Veteran wide receiver Santana Moss — who agreed to a new contract with the team last week but couldn’t practice with his teammates until a new collective bargaining agreement was officially ratified — asked an athletic trainer whether he could, finally, join in on drills.

He was told, simply: No.

“Tired of being neglected,” Moss muttered as he and 16 other Redskins — all with new contracts, all with jerseys, all eager to begin practice — lingered on one field at the team’s Ashburn training facility, while the rest of the team worked out on another.

Though the CBA was consented to earlier Thursday, the players had to approve it, so the Redskins’ free agents were handed their uniforms, then stripped of them, then given them back again and told to wait and watch some more.

“It’s probably the weirdest practice I ever had,” new cornerback Josh Wilson said.

In a way, at 4:57 p.m., the Redskins’ training camp officially started. General Manager Bruce Allen received word from the league that the deal was done, and with that, Washington’s newly signed players made their team complete. The same scene played out across the NFL; more than 200 players were able to work out with their teams for the first time. Normalcy, finally, won out.

“You feel like you’re part of the team again,” Moss said.

The news of the labor deal’s ratification had an immediate impact at Redskins Park, where Coach Mike Shanahan had started 11-on-11 drills. When Allen relayed word to Shanahan, he wasted no time. No fewer than eight players who hadn’t been allowed to participate a minute earlier began running with the first units — Moss, running back Tim Hightower, guard Chris Chester and tackle Jammal Brown on offense; Wilson, safety Reed Doughty and linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen on defense.

Technically, this was the Redskins’ sixth day of twice-a-day workouts, right when monotony might set in. Monotony, though, took a back seat to intensity when the new players jumped in.

“Anxious,” said Hightower, acquired last week in a trade with Arizona. “New scheme, new city. You never know really how it’s going to start out, and you want to just take your first carry and you want to . . . get all your emotions and all the thoughts you’ve been thinking . . . you want to get it out.”

Now, the story lines of the offseason — politicking and bargaining — are replaced by the story lines of the season. John Beck, the quarterback who was under contract and developed a bit of a sore arm as he took most of the snaps during the first week of camp, was joined by veteran Rex Grossman, who re-signed with the Redskins on Tuesday.

The pair split reps with the first team, but it was clear the competition for the starting job was on; Grossman led the first- team offense down the field during situational drills that closed practice.

“Crazy,” Grossman said. “The circumstances of this season have just been wild, every single step of the way — no offseason practices, and then miss the first four or five practices and then you jump in halfway through.”

The impact of the new additions was obvious early on. Brown, the starter at right tackle a year ago, stepped right back into his old position. He was joined by Chester, a free agent right guard from Baltimore who will be in a zone-blocking scheme for the first time in his career. The two must use the remainder of camp to develop the chemistry that could shore up an offensive line that suffered from uneven play a year ago.

Bowen and Cofield, free agents signed away from the Cowboys and Giants, respectively, are part of an overhaul on the defensive line that could be critical to turning around a unit that ranked 31st in yards allowed a year ago.

“Sitting on the side and you’re seeing them go through everything, it’s different when you’re in there,” Bowen said. “You have to listen to calls. . . . You just got to keep your ears open, listening, and you still got to pay attention to your keys, what’s in front of you.”

“We’re hitting it on the run now,” new wide receiver Donte Stallworth said. “We’re basically thrown out of an airplane and we’ve got to hit the ground running.”

With the Redskins’ preseason opener just eight days away, Shanahan is closely monitoring this unusual training camp to gauge his players’ conditioning. He had already curtailed some planned 11-on-11 work earlier in the week because he sensed some fatigue, and he is wary of the potential for a rash of injuries. Now, with the full roster available, he must decide how to handle the Aug. 12 game against Pittsburgh — who will play, and how much.

“It all depends on what type of shape they’re in,” Shanahan said. “As we evaluate these guys through the week, we’ll get a much better feel of what we’ll do.”

That will be determined over the next week, when some certainty will finally emerge from an offseason that offered none. Thursday was just the start.

“It was crazy from the beginning,” Bowen said. “I’m just glad that it’s finally over and we can be a team now and work together.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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