When the Redskins face the Baltimore Colts Saturday in their first exhibition game, they will be playing a more relaxed, wide-open team than the squads that spent two straight woeful seasons in the American Football Conference's East Division.
The man behind the new-edition Colts is the new coach, Mike McCormack, the former Redskin assistant and Philadelphia head coach who brings 25 years of NFL experience and a cool head to Baltimore.
He was hired last winter after Colt owner Robert Irsay fired Ted Marchibroda.
McCormack has inherited a talented but inconsistent team that crumbled to 5-11 finishes the last two years after three straight AFC East titles. McCormack's low-key patience and quiet confidence now must motivate the Colts for an extremely tough schedule.
His first step is revamping the passing offense to utilize the receivers and tight ends more in precisely run patterns. So far he is pleased with the progress.
"Camp's been going awfully good until today," McCormack said Friday after rain shortened the afternoon session of his two-a-day workouts. "I've been very pleased with our practices, except for those injuries to (guard) Ken (Huff) and (linebacker) Ed (Simonini)."
The two starters each sprained a knee (not seriously) on the damp turf at Goucher College here, where the Colts practice.
McCormack says the Colt camp is moving better than he expected despite the late arrival of veteran receiver Roger Carr and the failure of first-round draft pick Curtis Dickey to show at all.
Dickey, a world-class sprinter from Texas A&M, was supposed to help Baltimore at running back and/or wide receiver but he and the Colt front office can't agree on a contract.
"You can't worry about them when they aren't in camp. It's that simple," McCormack reasoned. "We haven't thought much at all about Curtis Dickey, to be honest.
"Ray Butler has been awfully good at wide receiver so far in camp. Ray has looked like an accomplished receiver, so that has made it easier to ignore Dickey's absence. He and (cornerback) Kim Anderson have been the hits of the camp so far."
Butler, from Southern Cal, madeseveral sparkling catches in Friday's scrimmage and a few times looked acrobatic, diving left, and right into the grass to snag nose-diving passes.
Anderson is a second-year player, but in effect a rookie after missing last season with an ankle injury. He credits much of his good health and early training success to McCormack.
"His workouts are about an hour and a half so you're not on the field long enough to develop bad habits," Anderson said. "Marchibroda's practices used to last about 2 1/2 hours.
"But what really makes it easier working with McCormack is his easy-going style. It's a big change with the type of program I'm from at Arizona State and (former coach) Frank Kush. Here you can go out and play football without somebody yelling and screaming at you constantly."
Defensive back Nesby Glasgow said the transition between the fiery, boisterous Marchibroda and McCormack has gone "pretty well."
"I think there is a much more relaxed atmosphere around here. I like practicing 1 1/2 hours because you don't have to pace yourself. You can give it everything and get a quality practice in.
"It seems his strongest point is being so relaxed and straightforward with the players. That's especially important at this point in the camp when you're going to have players coming and going.You'll need a guy like him to keep everybody up and practicing hard."
One veteran player said, "Everybody seems to have more respect for McCormack than they did for Marchibrada."
With the more-relaxed atmosphereand shorter practices the Colts are having high-spirited and better-organized practices, according to team observers.
Even sore-armed quarterback Bert Jones was eager to practice on a day in which the wind almost blew down the camera equipment of a television news team.
"You can get me to work as hard as you want on a day like today," Jones said before breaking into an off-key chorus of "Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day."
It is the talented but brittle Jones who most observers believe is the key to the Colts. Statistics might bear them out. In the last five seasons, the Colts have been 36-14 with oft-injured Jones in the starting backfield. Without him they are 5-20. Hard facts.
McCormack dismisses them.
"We're not going to dwell anymore on the possibility of Bert reinjuring his shoulder. We believe Greg Landry can come in and run our offense."
McCormack said he doesn't feel the Colts lose that much of their offense when Jones is out of the lineup, but in the past the offensive unit has lost confidence when he wasn't in the game.
"We could see it when I was at Cincinnati (where he was fired in December)," McCormack said. "They would just lose all hope when something happened to Bert. Looking at the films you can see they let down when Bert went out."
"We don't intend to let that happen anymore. Of course, Bert is a super quarterback. But look at Pittsburgh a couple of years ago when Terry Bradshaw got injured and had to miss six games. The defense rose to the occasion and didn't allow one touchdown. Their backup, (Mike) Kruzcek (now a Redskin), came in and got the job done. Losing a key player shouldn't cause a total breakdown."
McCormack may have enough to worry about with a totally healthy club because of a schedule that pits Baltimore against the New York Jets (twice), Pittsburgh, Houston, Miami, Buffalo and New England in the first seven weeks.
"I'd rather have them worry about Pittsburgh, Houston, New York and New England than five teams we think we can beat and lose because of overconfidence.
"We've got the type of schedule where we must prepare ourselves in a hurry. It gives us something to work hard in camp for. We've got to play them sometime and there's no need to get excited about it. We've got a tough opening. I hope we're up to it.
"People say I seem relaxed. Well I'm doing what I want to do -- coach. I love to do it. I just don't see any reason to get uptight doing something you enjoy doing."