By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2006; E01
Perhaps in symbolic preparation for a first full team practice in likely 95-degree heat, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs dabbed at his face throughout yesterday's news conference with a dark handkerchief.
Yet, compared to what some other coaches have endured in the first days of training camp, Gibbs had every right to be relieved. New England Patriots star wide receiver Deion Branch is sitting out training camp for a new contract, but Gibbs said yesterday the Redskins have no veteran holdouts. Carolina wideout Steve Smith suffered a hamstring injury and Cleveland lineman LeCharles Bentley was lost for the season after tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee, but Gibbs's team enters practice today free of injury.
Gibbs's fortunes even changed in the one uncertain roster area. Top pick Rocky McIntosh had not signed as Gibbs began his remarks yesterday.
"I think we're very close to a contract with Rocky," Gibbs said of the outside linebacker from Miami who was the third pick of the second round. "I don't think there's anything that we can announce, so I want to be careful about that and just say that we're real close."
But last night, the team announced it had agreed on a four-year deal, and McIntosh was expected to practice with the team today.
McIntosh, 23, did not miss any offseason workouts until June's minicamp, when he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He was drafted with the 35th overall pick and expected to compete for the starting outside linebacker spot -- vacated by LaVar Arrington -- with Warrick Holdman.
Gibbs said that because McIntosh was a relatively high draft choice, he was not particularly surprised that negotiations were not completed.
"Probably what happens is that first-time guys are told by their agents that they have time," he said. "Most agents will tell the players that they haven't missed anything, and they want to wait."
Gibbs was to meet with his team last night to tell them about the challenge of improving on last year's 10-6 record and playoff run.
"I think last year, what it tells us, is a couple of things," Gibbs said. "Number one is that we're capable of winning 10 games, so that's good. It will give us some confidence. The bad news is that it changes the way everyone looks at you and certainly you go into this approaching the season realizing that in this sport you can get your block knocked off at any time."
He added that he felt "humbled" by the NFL in that the margin between success and mediocrity is very small. Gibbs said he was concerned with the schedule, in and out of a vicious NFC East. Indeed, during minicamp in June, owner Daniel Snyder noted with some degree of dread the stretch between Oct. 22 and Dec. 10 in which the Redskins play seven games -- Indianapolis, Dallas, Philadelphia twice, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta -- against six strong playoff contenders.
Gibbs said that every position was ripe for competition, but in reality he is faced with a roster that is much more certain than last season. This year, few important positions are fluid; last season, for instance, the Redskins entered training camp unsure who would be their starting quarterback. This year, Mark Brunell is the unquestioned starter and Patrick Ramsey is gone.
Santana Moss is, for the first time in his career, the unquestioned top receiving threat, and there exists enough depth at wide receiver that should allow the Redskins to have consistent options aside from Moss, a luxury they did not have last season.
Defensively, with the exception of weak-side linebacker and perhaps an interior lineman position, it would be something of a surprise to upset the Redskins' projected depth chart.
"Starting camp, we are more settled," Gibbs said. "The problem up here is that anything can turn the tables on you. I feel more comfortable than I did the first year. We can build a lot on that. Last year was a tough year. In the middle of the year we were in real trouble and then we turned it around and won six games at the end."
Still, Gibbs knows part of his job is to quash the appearance of complacency.
"You'd like to say everything is open to competition. The difference up here in pro sports is that a lot of the guys you are counting on are going to turn around and realize that they are the guy" in danger of losing their job, Gibbs said. "They aren't going to feel threatened in a lot of cases, but you would hope. I think we have some established guys, but I think we have some guys who are going to make a run at it."
Redskins Notes: Gibbs said he has not heard whether safety Sean Taylor will be subject to disciplinary action by the NFL after the resolution of his year-long legal troubles. Taylor pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts in exchange for prosecutors dropping felony assault charges. He was sentenced to 18 months probation but is being sued by one of the men involved in the altercation. "The situation has been resolved publicly in court. I think it's up to the league now, and we'll just wait to see what they're going to do," Gibbs said. . . .
Along with Gibbs, Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine, said he was pleased by the medical progress his injured players made during the offseason. Randy Thomas, who broke his leg Dec. 17 against Dallas, is moving better than expected. Brunell, who broke a finger last month, is also well enough to begin practice. Jon Jansen will wear a splint on his thumb but will not be kept out of practice. "I think we're in really good shape," Gibbs said. "We had great work with the injured guys. Randy Thomas has been absolutely outstanding. Mark Brunell, with his finger, he's feeling good about that and ready to go there."