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Mike Shanahan will remake the Redskins in his own image
"He's a football savant. I don't know any other way to say it," Brewster said.
"He would watch six or seven games and he would see one thing and would base a third of our game plan on it," said Pat McPherson, who coached under Shanahan in Denver.
To guard Mark Schlereth, now an ESPN analyst, one of Shanahan's finest coaching jobs came in the days before Super Bowl XXXII, when the coach disappeared in his office to find a way to control the Green Bay Packers defense. All the way through the 1997 playoffs the Packers had great success moving star safety LeRoy Butler to weak-side linebacker, squelching other teams' running games. Nobody seemed to adjust. Shanahan spent hours examining the way Green Bay used Butler, ultimately reassigning his offensive linemen's blocking responsibilities to counter Butler.
"That was something that was extremely successful for us," Schlereth said.
Denver running back Terrell Davis rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos won the first of their two Super Bowls.
"He is going to find a weakness and his whole mind-set will be to attack that weakness relentlessly," Brewster said. "It's a chess match and Mike wants to see how you will adjust to what you see. He's great at keeping something he learned in the first quarter all the way until the fourth quarter when he can use it. And it will be lethal."
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Like many devotees of former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, Shanahan believes in scripting the first 15 plays of each game as well as the initial eight of the second half. But not all of the plays put on the script were intended to lead to a score. In fact, Schlereth said many were added to see how a defense would react to something the Broncos did, for example, putting four wide receivers on the field. Once the defense showed how it was going to handle such a situation, Shanahan would add plays accordingly.
During Denver's Super Bowl days, the Broncos only had about six or seven running plays. Each had variations but the core of the team's offense, no matter who was the running back, was its ability to run those plays as well as they could.
They ran them so well that often when Shanahan introduced a new wrinkle to the plays -- and usually he had a new twist every week -- they were just decoys designed to momentarily bewilder the defense, freeing the quarterback to throw a play-action pass.
But while Shanahan's coaching prowess is widely proclaimed, he is not nearly as admired as a personnel executive. Much of the thinking is that Shanahan's lust for control and a constant belief that he was only a player or two away from the Super Bowl led him into questionable moves.
For instance, his entire 2003 draft did not succeed and its only player of any impact -- right tackle George Foster -- was a first-round bust who was gone after 2006. His drafting of troubled Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in 2005 was a waste of a third-round pick. And a long line of high-profile free agent signings, including Daryl Gardener, Travis Henry, Denard Walker, Simeon Rice and Dale Carter, were mostly disasters.