Washington is Super Bowl-psyched about its Redskins. Why? Simple, Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs has returned. Gibbs led the Skins to four Super Bowls and won three during his 12 seasons (1981-92) with the team.
Coaches are probably more important in football than in any other pro sport. After all, a football coach such as Gibbs has to come up with a complicated game plan for every opponent.
Still, coaches can't win without players. So let's take a look at the players that Gibbs hopes to coach to the playoffs this season.
Quarterback: I am not sold on the new starter, Mark Brunell. He was terrific for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it seems that he has lost some zip on his passes and some speed in his legs. Backup Patrick Ramsey does not look comfortable in Gibbs's offense. All in all, it looks as if the Redskins quarterbacks will be only so-so. But don't worry, Gibbs once won a Super Bowl with a less-than-legendary quarterback named Mark Rypien.
Offense: Gibbs likes to run the football. So star cornerback Champ Bailey was traded to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis. Portis is good. He gained 1,591 yards and averaged a fabulous 5.5 yards per carry last year.
But lots of runners have put up big numbers with Denver. Can Portis gain the same kind of yardage behind the Redskins' line? The line will miss injured tackle Jon Jansen, but should be better under Gibbs's trusted line coach, Joe Bugel.
The Skins are loaded at receiver with Laveranues Coles, Rod Gardner, James Thrash and Darnerien McCants. If the line can give Brunell time to throw, these guys will get open.
Defense: The team could have big playmakers in LaVar Arrington and rookie safety Sean Taylor. The problem on defense might be the same as last year -- a weak defensive line. If the D-line can't stop the run or put pressure on the passer, that will spell trouble for the Skins.
Special Teams: Gibbs always has understood that special teams can win or lose lots of games in the National Football League. John Hall is a solid kicker and kick returner Chad Morton is a threat to take it all the way anytime he touches the ball. Expect the special teams to be better and help win some games for the Skins.
Prediction: The Redskins should get off to a fast start. Their first four opponents -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns -- are expected to be among the weakest teams in the NFL. But then the schedule gets tougher. If Gibbs and the Redskins can grab some early wins, they might be able to sneak into the playoffs.
The players might not be much better than last year's 5-11 team. But the Skins have hope, because this year they have a great coach.
Wanna talk sports with Fred Bowen? Join him for a discussion of his book "Winners Take All" at the Baseball as America exhibit Oct. 2 at the National Museum of Natural History. For information go to
www.fredbowen.com or call 301-585-2932.