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Redskins' Offense Is Put Under the Gun
Formation Could Play Key Role in '05

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2005

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey stood five yards behind center Casey Rabach, who was crouching at the 40-yard line during 11-on-11 drills at Redskins Park.

Rabach flipped a picture-perfect snap toward the chest of Ramsey, who caught the ball with his hands extended.

Rabach and Washington's quarterbacks executed the snap with equal precision as the shotgun formation was used on a handful of the roughly 30 snaps at yesterday's final minicamp session.

Because of Coach Joe Gibbs's aversion to the shotgun -- which is generally used in passing situations -- Washington's offense didn't employ it last year. But the formation was inserted into the playbook during the offseason, and the Redskins have executed it well in practice.

"We didn't botch one snap," Ramsey said. "It's been very smooth."

The perfection thus far increases the likelihood of Gibbs making the shotgun a critical part of his offense during the regular season. Gibbs has never used the shotgun in 13 years as an NFL head coach, but after overseeing one of the feeblest offenses in the NFL last season, he has incorporated several changes.

Washington has revamped its blocking schemes to better accommodate tailback Clinton Portis, who prefers more open space. Gibbs has also made the playbook less complicated and attempted to reduce movement before the snap. After a season that lacked many big plays, the Redskins' emphasis is on getting the ball downfield.

While serving as a broadcaster for ESPN during the April draft, right tackle Jon Jansen told a national television audience that Washington used a 1992 offense last season.

"I didn't mean anything derogatory by it," Jansen explained Saturday. "There were things we did last year that offenses probably did back then, that really didn't account from some of the blitzes you see now. The coaches have done a great job at tweaking the offense. We've made little things that most people wouldn't see unless they know a lot about football. The thing they'll see is us scoring more and winning more games."

Many of Gibbs's alterations were implemented in last season's final five games, when the offense averaged 21 points, almost five more points than during the first five games. But the most significant -- and conspicuous -- change involves the shotgun. Last season, the Redskins were among three NFL teams that never employed it.

But on Friday, Gibbs cracked, "When you're not successful, you'll try anything."

Gibbs said that the frequency with which the shotgun will be used will depend on how the offense adapts before the regular season. Most of the Redskins' offensive players, particularly quarterbacks and centers, have a background in the shotgun.

"I've been doing it forever," said Rabach, who signed as a free agent after spending four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

Several players -- particularly Ramsey, who had great success with the shotgun at Tulane -- are enthused about the formation, which give offenses:

· A better opportunity to counter blitzes, particularly inside pressure. (During his first tenure, Gibbs's offenses didn't face zone blitzes, which have become standard in today's defenses.)

· Extra time -- some coaches believe a half-second -- to get the ball downfield.

· Better sightlines for quarterbacks prior to the snap. Ramsey has been criticized for being too slow to read defenses, and the shotgun could help.

A secondary benefit is that the shotgun ostensibly makes an offense less predictable.

But the shotgun has its drawbacks, which Gibbs rattled off last season when asked about the formation.

"We had never used it for the same reason that Bill Walsh -- and people that come out of Bill Walsh's system -- didn't," Gibbs said of his fellow Hall of Fame coach.

The drawbacks include:

· Making it more difficult to hear the quarterback, who is farther from the line of scrimmage. This can cause problems in road games.

· Requiring better concentration from offensive linemen, who must use peripheral vision to watch the ball and opposing defensive linemen. Left tackle Chris Samuels explained: "It's a whole lot easier when the quarterback is under center, because you just listen to the snap count. If you focus on the ball too much [in the shotgun] then a speed rusher can beat you. If you focus on your guy too much, then the ball can snap and he still beats you."

· A higher margin for error, possibly leading to turnovers. "You can't send a bullet back there and have it go over his head," Rabach said, chuckling. (Last season, however, the Redskins botched several snaps under center.)

· Less time than a three-step drop, some say, to quickly get rid of the ball. But offensive coordinator Don Breaux said that his staff has learned that the shotgun allows passes to be unleashed just as quickly.

"It's not been part of our offense, but that doesn't mean it's not good," Breaux said. "We're adaptable. It's not really a big deal."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company