By George Solomon
Sunday, June 17, 2007
NFL minicamps are about hope. Drafted rookies, free agents, healthy veterans and mending veterans all converge for three days of practice before being dismissed until the start of training camp.
That was the scene at Redskins Park on Friday, when Joe Gibbs welcomed about 90 players for the first of three sessions, as well as a horde of reporters from every newspaper, Internet site, blog and television and radio station in town.
Even former Redskins and Houston Texans GM Charley Casserly, now working for CBS, was there, schmoozing with owner Daniel Snyder and his personnel chief, Vinny Cerrato. Those three sat in folding chairs on the sideline, just like the late Jack Kent Cooke did in the day, sans Cooke's dog Coco. (Tell me Michael Vick wouldn't have loved Coco.)
In Coco's day, minicamp was a much bigger deal. That was before Organized Team Activities, which is really 12 practices -- voluntary, of course, for everyone except players from the U. Then there's voluntary workouts in the weight room, which seem to begin about four hours after the final regular season game for teams not in the playoffs.
But these three minicamp sessions are mandatory, prompting Coach Joe Gibbs to say, "Minicamp is an extension to the whole offseason."
This is the fourth season of Gibbs's much publicized return to the Redskins, and his demeanor Friday seemed more businesslike, even when explaining how top draft pick LaRon Landry injured his groin in a paintball mishap this week. His most recent three-year record (21-27) here -- with one playoff appearance (2005) -- has disappointed fans, media and, most of all, Gibbs. The Hall of Fame coach, whose five-year contract expires after the 2008 season, does not want to be remembered as a coach six games under .500.
So when he says, "Hopefully we'll play better" in the upcoming season, you get the idea anything less would be a major disappointment.Not All Fun and Games
Most of the players in camp have one thing in mind -- making the team -- and do not share cornerback Fred Smoot's pronouncement: "I'm back, and I'm here to have fun." Smoot is the cornerback who achieved acclaim with the fans in his first stint here (2002-04) before jumping to Minnesota the past two seasons. His enthusiasm is a welcome diversion at a time when the NFL is addressing some serious questions, including the dangers of concussions and the financial state of a number of retired players and the response to them by the players' association.
I asked an eight-year Redskins veteran, tackle Jon Jansen, his view of these issues.
"Until I had a family, I didn't think about such things," he said. "But I do now; and quite frankly, I believe there's danger in a lot of different jobs -- not just football. But when you go into a game, you don't think about concussions or injuries. It's not what you do."
Of the growing division between many retired players and the Gene Upshaw-led NFLPA over benefits, Jansen, 31, said: "We owe these guys [retired players] a huge debt for what they helped create. Hopefully, there will be a solution. But it's really no different than someone who has retired from Ford or General Motors and has trouble making ends meet.
"I'll try to plan for my future. And I'll keep playing until they kick me out."Blogger Beware
Two notes of caution to blogger-sports agent Gilbert Arenas, who said last week he will opt out of his current contract with the Wizards after the 2008 season and wrote on his blog he would be seeking a "six-year, 14 or $15 million" contract:
· His boss, the 83-year-old Abe Pollin, the senior NBA owner, has never appreciated such demands, even if he admires Gilbert. Pollin is old-school; he believes he owns the team.
· Also, Arenas, whose greatest asset is quickness, is coming off a serious knee injury. He should know that "buyer beware" signs are out, until he proves to be the Arenas of old.
Other Wizards news: Tom Young, an assistant on Eddie Jordan's staff for the past four years, announced his retirement Thursday. The 74-year-old Young, who coached Jordan at Rutgers, also had stints at American, Catholic, Maryland and Old Dominion.
"It was time," Young said. "I'll play more golf and travel. But I wish I'd gone to the NBA sooner. It's a better place for coaches to work."A Pretty Fair Market?
· What a week for the Nationals. A three-game sweep of the "arch-rival" Orioles. But each of these exciting contests at Oriole Park at Camden Yards drew slightly more than 20,000 fans per game. Pathetic.
"Look, it's not the Yankees-Mets yet," Nats Manager Manny Acta said. "You never saw such love and hate among fans as with that rivalry. I would ride the subway to Yankee Stadium, or Shea, when I was coaching for the Mets just to see the fans."
Was Orioles owner Peter Angelos correct when he said the region could not support two teams? Maybe the new stadium in Washington, along with a stronger Nats team, with an improved club in Baltimore, will prove Angelos wrong. We'll see.
· Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin was named to the all-NHL first team, it was announced Thursday at the league's awards dinner in Toronto. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby won the Hart Trophy as MVP. Ovechkin's boss, Ted Leonsis, who vows the Caps will return to the playoffs in 2008 after a three-season absence, understands the need to surround Ovechkin with more talent from inside and outside the organization. The Penguins did just that for Crosby.
· And hooray for Leonsis, Sheila Johnson and their Lincoln Holdings partners in the WNBA Mystics. The Mystics won a game last week.
· On another front, Leonsis's documentary -- "Nanking" -- his first attempt at filmmaking, opened Friday at the SilverDocs film festival at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. Leonsis is a busy man.
· History Lesson: Was it 20 years ago that the now-defunct Washington Commandos lost to the Pittsburgh Gladiators, 48-46, in the Arena Football League's inaugural game in Pittsburgh? The Commandos played at Cap Centre in 1987 and 1989 and Patriot Center in 1990 before leaving town.
I saw the first game at Cap Centre in 1987, a 36-20 Washington victory over Denver before 13,507, including a Post intern assigned to write a play-by-play account who remains in Landover to this day adding up points and statistics.
The AFL now has 19 teams, with Snyder owning the AFL rights in this area. The league, of course, hopes Snyder exercises those rights some day.
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