By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
With the Washington Redskins eliminated from the postseason and guaranteed a losing season, Coach Joe Gibbs faced questions regarding the future of the team yesterday, and said that his top assistants, Gregg Williams, who oversees the defense, and Al Saunders, who calls plays on offense, will return next season.
Gibbs said he is focused on winning the final three games despite their insignificance to the standings but is preparing for a lengthy offseason review of the franchise.
"We're comfortable with our coaches," Gibbs said during his weekly news conference. "Gregg Williams has been here, and we've had top-10 defenses and they've played extremely well. I think what happens when you're four and nine, obviously you've got a lot of questions. I know there's things, 'Hey, am I going to be here? Are all of the coaches going to be here?' And I really think that we've got a set plan of what we want to do and we've got the people here we want to do it, and that's our commitment."
When pressed, Gibbs said firmly that Williams and Saunders will be back. Last week, Gibbs, who also is team president, restated his commitment to fulfilling the five-year contract he signed in 2004.
The Redskins rank 23rd in the league in total defense but last in sacks, interceptions per pass play and opposing quarterback rating. The offense has moved the ball at times but ranks 25th in scoring and 17th overall. The Redskins have been beset by penalties in each of the last three seasons and rank second in the NFL in penalty yards this year.
Williams has come under criticism this season after the defense finished third in the league in 2004 and ninth a year ago. The team has yielded big plays and struggled to produce sacks and turnovers. Saunders was hired in January to add explosiveness to the offense and to replace Gibbs as the play-caller. But the shift has led to a season of transition for the offense, with playmakers struggling to get the ball. The Redskins switched from veteran quarterback Mark Brunell to second-year quarterback Jason Campbell last month.
Members of the organization will meet extensively in January, when Gibbs will assess every aspect of the franchise from how it conducts training camp -- it likely will be longer and more rigorous, he has hinted -- to the construction of the roster to the way techniques and schemes are taught to players. It is conceivable other members of the staff will not be back, or that some may be asked to assume different roles, which has occurred in both offseasons since Gibbs's return.
Gibbs has continually defended the team's free-spending approach to free agency, and its willingness to trade multiple draft picks to acquire individual players, and likely will be questioned about that into the offseason. He expects to find answers for the team's deficiencies after the final game.
"How do we keep from making those mistakes again, how do we fix it and how do we get back?" Gibbs said. "That's kind of where I am. My focus right now is on how we finish this thing. I want to finish it so we've got some momentum going forward. Then, of course, there'll be a huge offseason deal here. It'll be nonstop to try and figure out just those things."
For many veterans, especially those who have spent considerable time here, the frustrations of another lost season took hold yesterday. The final three games, including Sunday's visit to New Orleans, will be devoid of any real impact beyond draft order -- at best the team could go 7-9 -- leaving the players to consider all that has slipped away.
"I really thought we'd make it to the playoffs and have a legit shot to win the Super Bowl," said tackle Chris Samuels, the second-longest-serving player on the roster. "But things didn't work out that way for us."
Brunell, the starting quarterback entering the season, asserted in the preseason that anything less than a trip deep into the playoffs would be a disappointment, and after missing the playoffs from 2000 to 2004, optimism was high after two playoff games in January.
Coming to grips with how fast the team has fallen, and how far it must go -- only Detroit and Tampa Bay (a club that beat Washington a few weeks back) have fewer wins among NFC teams -- has not been easy.
"Man, come on, I could not even think of this happening," said lineman Renaldo Wynn, the longest-tenured player on defense. "Nobody thought those types of negative thoughts back at the start of the season. That was like something I was not even thinking about. I couldn't even conjure this up on my mind. But it is what it is, man. Right now we've got to salvage what we can from these three games we've got left."
Gibbs would like a sharper focus in preseason games -- the Redskins were 0-4 and then dropped their first two regular season games. "We lost six straight games. That's the first thing I think of," Gibbs said.
The Redskins will come nowhere close to meeting expectations, and could have difficulty even matching their six wins from 2004, Gibbs's first season back from retirement.
"All 32 teams go into the beginning of the year trying to get to the playoffs, and your ultimate goal is to go to the Super Bowl," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "It's tough when you work so hard for it, and that light at the end of the tunnel is gone. So now you've got to find something else to motivate you, and we'll see what we can get done."