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Washington Redskins hurt by lack of indoor practice facility

By Amy Shipley and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 11:15 PM

Despite the free-spending ways of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Redskins players frequently find themselves out in the cold. Or the rain. Or the snow.

Or, as was the case Thursday, scrambling for their cars.

The Redskins are the only cold-weather NFL team that lacks an indoor practice facility or bubble-covered field for use when the weather turns nasty. The occasional inconvenience has been an obvious irritant to the coaching staff; when snow fell Thursday, players were forced to drive themselves to an off-site fitness center because the team couldn't charter buses in time. And it may be a sore spot given the team's recent history of late-season struggles.

Fourteen of the NFL's 32 franchises own and operate indoor practice facilities with regulation fields inside. Seven others have practice bubbles, two occasionally train in their domed stadiums and four have rental agreements with nearby facilities. Only four other franchises have no readily available indoor training options, but all are located in California or Florida.

"Any time you can have a full practice, and go through it full speed and run, it's better than walk-throughs" in a gymnasium, cornerback Carlos Rogers said Thursday. "Walk-throughs [are] more mental and getting things down.

"You can be tough and say, 'It's Redskins weather.' But to have that full practice, I think that's better than anything."

Six times this season, the Redskins have postponed practice or changed venues because of inclement weather. On Wednesday, the team moved practice to its rarely used, hard, artificial turf field at Redskins Park in Ashburn because the team's grass fields were frozen solid. "The choices were limited," Coach Mike Shanahan said.

They were even more limited Thursday when it snowed and the team didn't have enough time to charter buses to a nearby fitness facility. Equipment managers shoved bags of balls and cameras for filming practice into the backs of SUVs.

Earlier this month, rain forced the Redskins to practice on indoor basketball courts. In September and October, players were bused to an empty airport hangar at Dulles International Airport. In August, practice was delayed five hours by rain. Each time the team went indoors, Shanahan described the practices as little more than "jog-throughs."

On other days, the team has trained outside regardless of the temperature, but its cold-weather production in recent years has been dismal. Washington is 5-17 in games in November, December and January since 2008, including its 1-4 mark this season.

League building boom

An indoor training facility "is something, in my opinion, that you need," said Charley Casserly, the Redskins' general manager for 23 years until Snyder fired him in 1999. But "obviously I was on record 20 years ago saying you didn't need one."

Indeed, when Redskins Park opened in Ashburn in 1992 with Casserly at the franchise's helm, he spent little time considering the benefits of an indoor facility. But Casserly, now an NFL pregame analyst for CBS Sports, has altered his viewpoint over the years, citing various changes in circumstance: the Redskins' commitment to holding training camp at the facility; the later end to the NFL season; the possible addition of two more regular season games in the next collective bargaining agreement; and the proliferation of such facilities among the Redskins' competitors.

More than a dozen bubbles or indoor facilities have been erected by NFL teams since 1999.

Redskins Executive Vice President Bruce Allen said through a spokesman that the team is "looking into our various options regarding an indoor facility," but Loudoun County officials said no proposals have been submitted either for building on existing property at Redskins Park or purchasing nearby land for such a facility.

"From time to time over the years, they have expressed a desire to have an indoor practice facility," said Charles Yudd, an assistant county administrator in Loudoun. "It goes back to even the previous coach, and maybe before that. . . . [But] currently there is no proposal that we're looking at. They haven't submitted anything . . . It would have to be reviewed by the county."

Only eight other teams - San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Jacksonville, Arizona, Denver, Cincinnati and Carolina - do not own indoor practice facilities or domed stadiums in which they can work out.

Bad weather is rarely a significant issue in the California cities and Jacksonville. Arizona, which struggles with scorching temperatures in late summer and early fall, rents a bubble from Arizona State University. Cincinnati uses a nearby indoor soccer facility, and Denver utilizes a bubble at a recreation facility.

In the NFC East, only the Redskins must improvise when the weather turns dour. The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles have indoor practice facilities on-site. The Dallas Cowboys' practice bubble collapsed in May 2009, injuring 12 people. The team hasn't yet decided whether it will construct another indoor facility. In the meantime, the team buses players to Cowboys Stadium when inclement weather hits.

Allen declined further comment on the Redskins' plans, according to Senior Vice President Tony Wyllie. The team's former executive vice president for football operations, Vinny Cerrato, and head coach Jim Zorn - now the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens - also declined to comment.

Shanahan said Thursday that he had made his feelings clear to Snyder. "He's very aware of my thoughts," the head coach said. "Obviously I don't have to go into detail. But, obviously, you want the preparation that you need to get ready for a game."

Flood plain a factor

The cheapest way to remedy the problem - putting a bubble over one of the four existing fields at Redskins Park, an approximately $3 million proposition - is not, an option at all, according to county officials. All four fields are situated on a 100-year flood plain, which means no permanent structures may be built there. The team offices sit just outside the flood plain on a hill.

The flood plain runs diagonally across the Redskins' 159-acre property, preventing the organization from undertaking any construction on more than half the land. Only the expanse located in front of the team's headquarters would be available for additional building. When the late Jack Kent Cooke owned the Redskins, the team paid just more than $5 million in 1991 for the plots on a former dairy farm.

Back then "it was talked about, but not really in detail," Casserly said. "None of us - including [former head coach] Joe Gibbs - thought we needed it. . . . We felt the weather was never really that bad."

The county allowed bleachers to be erected around the field when the Redskins began holding training camp at Redskins Park a decade ago because they were temporary structures. The fields themselves were allowed because they were considered "open-space recreation areas," according to Terrence Wharton, Loudoun County's director of building and development.

Though there is an indoor sports facility in Sterling called the Dulles Sportsplex, the Redskins have not inquired about using it, according to Marcus Dillon, the facility's general manager. They would be limited by the 35-foot ceilings, which are too low for kicks or long passes.

Constructing a brick-and-mortar facility rather than erecting a bubble over an existing field could increase the cost by a factor of 10. The Detroit Lions spent $36 million on a permanent indoor facility that was completed in 2002 and is part of the team's headquarters, according to a team spokesman.

One county official said the Redskins "are looking for something that is kind of a huge barn" by the airport, and Yudd said there are various plots available in Loudoun that would work for the venture.

"There are vacant sites that have a variety of planning and zoning requirements," Yudd said, "if somebody's interested."

shipleya@washpost.com maeser@washpost.com

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