By Rick Maese
Monday, August 2, 2010; D01
A year ago, large speakers blared music throughout regular season practices. During Washington Redskins training camp, players slept at their own homes. On the field, the head coach spent the majority of his time with the quarterbacks.
Not that anyone needs any more reminders that there's a new sheriff in town, but it took only a few minutes of Mike Shanahan's first training camp in Washington to appreciate just how different things are. The coach oversees everything from afar, often standing alone on the middle of the field. There's no music. And players all retire each night to a nearby hotel.
The practices themselves, through the first four days at least, haven't lacked in tempo or energy.
"I lost, I think, seven pounds today," tight end Chris Cooley said after one grueling morning session over the weekend.
The players wear helmets and pads but not full uniforms. They hit but don't tackle. They know it's a practice but try to envision a game. They'll run football plays rather than run through football drills.
"I know that a lot of teams work on individual drills and tackling and all kinds of things, but we're pros and we should be at the point where we should just run plays," Cooley said. "I think it is the best way for us to mesh as a team."
The Redskins are still learning new schemes on both sides of the ball -- though coaches and players seem pleased with the progress -- but Shanahan doesn't feel the need to cram two tiring practices into a single day.
The first practice each day lasts more than two hours and has kept players steadily moving while mimicking game scenarios.
"They don't have to conserve energy for the afternoon like you do in a normal two-a-days," said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Players are tired when the morning practice is finished, but when they return to the field in the afternoon, the second session each day is just a "jog-through," an hour-long practice that allows player to move through the motions at a much slower pace.
"I don't think we need a second practice to kill them every day," Mike Shanahan said. "What we need is repetition, to be out there so we can stay on top of our game mentally."
On Sunday, Shanahan canceled that afternoon session, though players were still scheduled to attend meetings into the early evening.
The team begins each morning with position drills but spends a considerable amount of time lining up 11-on-11, often keeping down and distance and putting the offense and defense in scenarios that might pop up in actual games.
"They get a first down, they keep it," said linebacker London Fletcher. "The defense gets an opportunity to stop them. Everybody's on the sideline. It creates a football-type of atmosphere, a game-type of atmosphere out there where you have to make decisions."
The intensity level remains fairly high. Even after a play is dead, running backs and receivers keep charging an extra 15 yards, and while defenders won't wrap up backs and take them to the ground, they also don't pass up too many opportunities to hit.
By now, offensive players know particularly that if a play gravitates toward safety LaRon Landry, a regular season hit could be coming.
"Most guys just bump up against you when you have the ball. LaRon likes to go into the full tackling mode," Cooley said. "He's in scrimmage mode at all times. We talked about it in the locker room and he said, 'Why are you giving me a hard time?' I said, 'You are the only one that tackles. So if you're going to tackle me, I am going to give you a hard time about it. You're going to have to deal with that.' "
Shanahan isn't about to ask his defensive players to hold back. He wants them hitting above the waist but still replicating game-action as closely as possible.
"I don't mind those hard hits," he said. "I mean, we're going to get those in the game. I love those hard hits."
While former head coach Jim Zorn spent almost the entirety of practice working with the quarterbacks, Shanahan prefers to patrol the field more like a CEO, removed from each group of players but watching all of them. Kyle Shanahan is the one who helps with the quarterbacks.
While the team can go through dozens of plays in the morning, they'll run some of the exact same plays in the afternoon. But in the morning, the offense goes against the Redskins' new 3-4 defense; in the afternoon, each group will mimic other fronts that they're bound to see from other teams. So the defense might run its formation against the Wildcat offense during its "jog-through," and the offense might try its two-tight end set against a more traditional 4-3 base defense.
"It is just a way to get everything done in camp," Shanahan said.
Though the head coach canceled Sunday afternoon's "jog-through," the team is expected to hit the field twice every day the rest of this week.
The coach says he's pleased with the effort he's seen thus far but felt the team hit a familiar roadblock on Sunday.
"Any time you put the pads on, normally that third or fourth day is a little bit tougher, just like it was today," Shanahan said following Sunday morning's practice. "Guys get a little tired -- they're not quite as quick as they were. If you're not quite as quick, you make mistakes. Sometimes mentally you get a little fatigued. There was some good effort out there, but too many mistakes."