Does Gibbs Have The Tools to Fix It?

By Michael Wilbon
Friday, September 22, 2006

When a pro basketball team is in need of a victory, it turns to the franchise player, the megastar. A big league baseball team turns to its ace to stop a losing streak. In pro football, a team turns to its head coach. Which brings me to Joe Gibbs.

Probably no coach the past 30 years has been as successful at rallying a team, at pulling players out of a funk as Gibbs, which is one of the many reasons his bronze bust sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's why he pronounced late Sunday night, after the Redskins had dropped to 0-2, "We have to find a way to win a game and it starts with the head coach."

It was as if Gibbs were talking to himself as much as the reporters he was addressing. "Gotta find a way to fix a bunch of things," he said.

We've seen Gibbs fix things so many times, there's every reason to believe he'll do it again, beginning Sunday in Houston in what, absurdly enough, is a must-win game even though it's only Week 3 of the season.

The problem is that the list of things to fix just gets longer. Yesterday, for instance, the Redskins learned they will not have their best cornerback (and one of the best in the NFL), Shawn Springs, for at least this week.

This, unquestionably, is a setback. And it should have been avoided at all costs.

Springs should not have been on the practice field Wednesday. The surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle isn't a minor deal. It's fairly major surgery. And from talking to two players who have had the surgery, eight weeks is a reasonable time for recovery. So why was Springs trying to practice after five?

Because the culture of the NFL pressures players to come back too quickly. Because Springs couldn't go to dinner, pick up a newspaper or meet with his coaches without hearing that, without the team's best cornerback, Gregg Williams was limited in what he could do defensively.

In other words, without Springs available to cover the other team's best receiver man-to-man, Williams can't call on all those creative and effective blitzes the Redskins have used to devastate offenses. As one NFL player told me this week: "Gregg can't go after anybody right now. He has no dominant pass rusher, so he has to rely on blitzes. He does that as well as anybody, but everybody knows he can't do that without Shawn Springs."

Just about every NFL player, especially the best ones, feel a sense of obligation to try to play before it's wise to do so.

Every team in the NFL, and the Redskins are no exception, operate with that kind of unspoken pressure. Rarely if ever do coaches say, "Son, hurry it up." They just look at 'em with dreamy eyes and say: "Boy, it would be so much better for the whole team if we had you in there. Wow, just think of all the things we could do with you on the field."

And next thing you know, LaVar Arrington is practicing on a wet field and re-injuring his knee or Springs is suffering a new injury that is definitely related to the one that hadn't healed.

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