By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007
Any debate about the importance of the NFL preseason, and its correlation to regular season results, was over before it could begin last year in Washington. The Redskins' poor performance in exhibition games slopped over into September; they spiraled through a 5-11 season and Coach Joe Gibbs never escaped those summer harbingers.
As the Redskins lurched along, their training camp routines increasingly were criticized. Star tailback Clinton Portis, injured during the first series of the preseason and never fully fit in 2006, railed against his preseason role. The team adhered to pedestrian game plans in the exhibitions, and players believed that the refusal to reveal much of their new offense in those games prolonged the lengthy adjustment period when the results mattered.
Many suggested the coaches were far too lenient in August, with only a handful of two-a-day sessions, canceling practices because of heat, running what some considered a cushy camp.
"Everybody still has a nasty taste in their mouth from last year, from what happened in the season and the preseason," veteran linebacker Marcus Washington said. "It was tough for us, and we just feel like we didn't reach our potential. We didn't do what we feel like we could have done and be one of the best teams in the league."
With training camp opening today at Redskins Park, players are braced for change. Their request for a longer reprieve from Ashburn was granted this spring, and now the training camp schedule includes twice as many two-a-days. Players anticipate a more physical camp, one devoid of last year's heady postseason predictions. Few would be surprised should Gibbs and associate head coach-offense Al Saunders allow quarterback Jason Campbell to reveal more of their intricate scheme than in years past.
Gibbs was open to reassessing everything associated with preseason, and, while maintaining that his core principles have not changed, he hopes the new wrinkles will spur greater immediate chemistry and prevent a repeat of last season's 0-4 exhibition season.
"This year we come in with a different approach and the guys really worked hard in the preseason and I definitely think it's going to pay off," Washington said. "I think it's going to be a tough training camp and we're going to take preseason seriously. We're going to go into those games and we want to win. It's not like we want to coast through the preseason. That won't be our attitude. We want to win. We want to play well."
Washington and other team leaders contemplated the preseason practice schedule and, while no one is begging for longer days and more grueling practices, are embracing the fact that for the first three weeks at least, there will be two-a-day sessions every other day for the most part. Bubba Tyer, director of sports medicine, said the coaches and staff will remain vigilant about providing ample rest for veterans and those coming off injuries, and the schedule still includes days off before and after each game.
A year ago, the Redskins held a morning and afternoon practice on the same day just once, and held a morning and night practice on the same day one other time. This year, there are four days when the team will practice in the morning and again around 4 p.m., and one other time they will practice in the morning and again under the lights. Also, the team will hold two-a-day practices much deeper into preseason, doing so in the weeks after the annual scrimmage with Baltimore and a few days after the game at Tennessee as well. Their camp will be four days longer than it was last year.
"My mentality is, if it's going to be tough, and we think it will be," Washington said, "then I'd rather it be tough early in training camp. And then as the season goes along and you gets bumps and bruises, try to take it a little easier on us then. But if it's got to be tough, then I'd definitely rather grind it out in the first few weeks."
The team opened the 2006 preseason with a 19-3 loss at Cincinnati. When the Redskins followed with an uninspired effort in a 27-14 loss to the New York Jets, Gibbs was extremely critical of the team, appearing more irritated in those postgame remarks than at any other point since returning to coaching in 2004. The Redskins went out and were blasted, 41-0, at New England and lost, 17-10, to the Ravens. Glaring issues with the offense and defense exposed in those games -- no downfield passing game; problems in pass coverage -- were never corrected, Washington lost its first two regular season games, fell to 2-5 and finished last in the NFC East.
"We have that sense of urgency now," fullback Mike Sellers said. "We know how important this preseason is and we have to keep that going. When the first and second team are out there, we need to show what we can do."
Last year, the first-team offense did not muster a point in four preseason games. Another offseason in Saunders's complex offense should benefit all involved, but nothing is guaranteed.
"Telling people what we can do ain't going to solve nothing," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "Once you do it, then you can talk about it. We looked good at OTAs [organized team activities in the spring] and we've worked hard, but that doesn't get you anything.
"Practice and the preseason games are going to judge how we are going to come into the season, and I think with that year under our belts together we shouldn't have to be going through what we went through last year."
Redskins Notes: The team and first-round draft pick LaRon Landry were making progress toward a contract last night and both sides sensed that a deal could be completed before the first practice today. Once the fourth and eighth overall picks were signed yesterday, the parameters for a deal for Landry, the sixth overall pick, were falling into place. He is excepted to push for a starting safety spot almost immediately. . . . The Redskins signed Corey Bradford, a 6-1, 205-pound wide receiver. With Moss coming off injuries, Bradford adds depth and size. He is a 10th-year veteran who appeared in nine games with Detroit last season. He previously spent four seasons each in Green Bay and Houston.