Winds of change blow through Redskins Park

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010; D01

The security gate arm was down. That was the first change I noticed as I arrived at Redskins Park for the third day of the first minicamp of the Mike Shanahan era. I don't remember the last time the gate arm was down, or the last time I saw someone manning the guard house.

It's a small thing, and it may have nothing to do with Shanahan, or Bruce Allen or anything else. But the gate was down during the Joe Gibbs era. It was a small thing among a lot of small but noticeable things Sunday that seemed to signal change at Redskins Park. Before I could even frame the question for Fred Davis -- his all-important hands tucked into his waistband to protect them from the brisk breeze -- he was answering.

"Oh man, things are dramatically changed," he said. "Just the rules. Everybody's got to follow the same rules. Nobody's better than anyone else. I kind of think that's good, definitely with the team, with the state we were in last year, we needed something like this. It'll help us be together as a team more, win as a team, and not anyone be outside of it. That's how I think you win."

Two years ago, Davis -- who'd just been taken in the second round of the 2008 draft -- very famously overslept for Day 3 of a May minicamp. He hasn't been late since, nor is he likely to be. Shanahan has already made quite an impression.

"I'm getting to know Shanahan, yeah, a lot," Davis said, laughing. "Make sure you're on time for everything, make sure everything's done the right way, you'll be fine."

This is why, in Shanahan's dictionary, the entry for "voluntary" reads "see mandatory." This is why Shanahan would have liked to have seen the entire roster -- even unhappy campers such as Albert Haynesworth, Jason Campbell and Rocky McIntosh -- spend three days in Ashburn. The sooner everyone's indoctrinated, the better.

He apparently made great strides in his first weekend of coaching in Washington. Nearly every player worked the word "commitment" into a sentence, a sure sign that it's a Shanahan buzz word.

"It's a new regime, new coaches, new staff, a new way of life," said defensive end Andre Carter. "It's not just your standard minicamp. We always come with a purpose but this is different.

"His philosophy, the way he carries himself, how he wants us to carry ourselves, it's totally different compared to some of the coaches we've had before. It is a lot more serious. The key word is 'together.' It's not about egos, it's about individuals becoming one."

The tone Sunday was serious; there was no music, no goofing off or wandering around. There were no hangers-on sidling from field to field. Allen walked onto the practice field with no fanfare -- nary a golf cart in sight -- and observed. There were no lawn chairs and no tents.

Players watched drills, even if they weren't participating. Maybe you're thinking "big deal." I wasn't at minicamp last year, but I was at much of training camp, and the difference in the focus and tone between last August's practices and Sunday's was striking.

These may all sound like just more small changes. But to the players, they were huge -- and not unwelcome. In fact, quite the opposite.

"I told one guy, it's a breath of fresh air," defensive end-linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Everybody's working to achieve one goal. We're all on the same page, coming together as one."

Last season, the Redskins could have held two minicamps but they chose to have just one. This season, the Redskins can have three minicamps, two voluntary ("see mandatory") and one mandatory-mandatory. Care to hazard a guess as to how many they'll have?

"You can see why he's won two Super Bowls," London Fletcher said. "He talks about the standard that's expected of us. He wants maximum effort. With the new system we're going to have mistakes but he's making sure we put in the effort."

Fletcher said he has talked to Haynesworth, who is engaged in a battle of wills with Shanahan over the definition of voluntary as well as the hybrid 3-4 defense. (Stunningly, Shanahan is still implementing the new alignment.) Asked what he thought of playing a game of chicken with a coach like Mike Shanahan, Fletcher laughed, but when he answered, he answered carefully: "We want Albert here."

It's not surprising to see Fletcher falling into formation; he's a team leader and a consummate professional. But what about Clinton Portis? His former coach in Denver has brought in running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, possibly to push Portis, possibly to do even more than that. Under fire for his conditioning and practice habits, Portis could easily be chafing under Shanahan's new democracy. Does he feel more committed to the Redskins with Shanahan running the show?

"I actually do," he said. "It's a difference when you say commitment and you want someone to buy into a system that you really don't believe in. I think having Coach Shanahan here, you just believe in whatever he say. If he tell you, 'I think we can jump off the roof, that we going to land safe.' It's like, 'All right, [expletive] it, let's jump.' "

So there you have it: Three days with Mike Shanahan has the Redskins ready to jump off a roof -- in a good way. I can hardly wait for Organized Training Activities.

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