Redskins players, Zorn approach game the same under new general manager Bruce Allen

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009; D01

While one man went to work Friday preparing the Washington Redskins for the future, 53 others were back on the practice field with their sights focused intently on the short term. Players know that if they want to be a part of new General Manager Bruce Allen's plans in Washington, they've got to take advantage of a three-game audition that begins Monday night against the New York Giants.

Coaches and players roundly dismissed the idea that this week's front-office upheaval is any kind of distraction, but they know the franchise's new decision maker will be carefully taking notes as the team lunges for the season's finish line.

Vinny Cerrato was ousted Thursday morning as the team's executive vice president of football operations, replaced just two hours later by Allen, son of Hall of Fame coach George Allen and a former front-office executive with Oakland and Tampa Bay.

Players say they realize major change likely awaits the organization once the season ends Jan. 3, but no one -- perhaps not even Allen -- knows just how sweeping those changes might be.

"If you sit there and worry about that, you'll really go out and have bad performances," said defensive end Phillip Daniels, "and that will really hurt you and any chance of coming back. You have to go out and just play football."

As Allen began his first full day at the helm of the franchise he grew up loving, most everyone else at Redskins Park tried to treat Friday as business as usual, even as the future beyond Week 17 remained shrouded in uncertainty. Media reports continued to surface suggesting that the Redskins were already in negotiations with former Denver coach Mike Shanahan. One local television station, in fact, erroneously reported that Shanahan was already at Redskins Park on Friday.

Coach Jim Zorn and his assistants are under contract for one more season, but their tenures in Washington could have just a few more weeks remaining. Zorn said Friday that he's not following any media reports about his future or his possible successors.

"I'm not aware of that, and I wouldn't even try to go there," he said. "Because I'm not looking towards what is going to happen this offseason or next season yet. We're right in the middle of it. For us, I'm kind of excited about where we're heading."

In the locker room Friday, players acknowledged that the same group of faces wouldn't likely be around next spring. One day earlier, at Allen's introductory news conference, the new general manager stressed that he liked urgency. "I like doing things sooner than later," he said.

That was certainly the case at his previous two NFL stops. With Allen on board, the Raiders and Buccaneers wasted little time in engineering massive roster overhauls. With just a handful of contracts guaranteed beyond this season, the Redskins could see a similar roster renovation soon.

In Oakland, Allen joined the Raiders' front office before the team's 1995 season. By Week 1 in 1996, the Raiders had 22 new faces on their 53-man roster. When Allen arrived in Tampa Bay before the 2004 season, reuniting with coach Jon Gruden, he immediately said goodbye to area icons John Lynch and Warren Sapp, who helped bring the area a Super Bowl trophy two years earlier.

By spring, Allen and Gruden had acquired more than 30 players via free agency, trade and the NFL draft, and the Bucs began the 2005 season with a roster that included 11 rookies and 21 players with two years or less of experience.

Allen's exact role in those reconstruction projects isn't clear. Those who worked with him in Oakland say Allen had minimal impact on the team's personnel decisions, instead taking a lead in contract negotiations and managing the salary cap. Similarly, in Tampa Bay, Gruden was central in many roster moves.

Allen and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder didn't pointedly address Allen's exact responsibilities in his new post, so it's possible Allen won't be the sole person in charge of shaping the team's roster beyond this season.

In Washington, Allen inherits a similar roster to the one that greeted him in Tampa four years ago. Allen had to make difficult decisions about the Bucs' veteran-laden defense -- players such as Sapp, Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice. On offense, Allen's Tampa Bay teams cycled through six starting quarterbacks in his first three seasons there.

The Redskins have a handful of promising young players, but generally are hampered by an aging roster. They began the current season, in fact, with the league's oldest bunch. With veteran players occupying several defensive starting spots, plus a few key skill positions on offense, one of the team's biggest offseason decisions will involve quarterback Jason Campbell, a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

"I'm sure he's going to make the best decisions he can for the franchise in everything he does," Campbell said. "I'm sure he's going to try to make everything go in the direction he feels it needs to go. He's going to examine a whole lot of things, personalities, character and whatever he feels will be important for our team moving forward. His résumé speaks for itself. He's been successful, so he's going to make the type of decisions that helped him be successful in the past.

"As far as myself, I'm just going to try to keep playing at the highest level I can. I don't know what my situation will be, I don't know what's going to happen at the end of the year, but I can't worry about those things."

That was a common theme in Friday's locker room.

"As an individual, there's only so much you can control," defensive end Andre Carter said. "You can control how you play, you can control how you practice, you can control waking up every day and controlling the moment."

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.

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