Next to summer training camp, the one activity pro football players dislike most is an offseason minicamp. No one is in top physical condition, veterans can't see the need to leave their homes and jobs to review material they already know, and rookies aren't sure what to expect.
But for the Redskins who will gather Wednesday at Redskin Park on the eve of the first of this spring's three minicamps, the ensuing three days will have special meaning. They will have their first exposure to new Coach Joe Gibbs, a driven man who will give them an intense, force-fed course in what has been called "the football of the '80s."
This won't be a low-key camp. Gibbs is going to cram five on-the-field sessions into 2 1/2 days, plus as many meetings and blackboard and film sessions as his athletes can handle.
"I know the players usually think minicamps are a waste of time," Gibbs said. "But I think they will walk away from this one with a different feeling. This basically is going to be a teaching experience, both for us and the players. But it won't be a torture thing, although the wheels will be spinning."
Gibbs has tried to withhold forming opinions about any of the players he inherited from Jack Pardee until he could see them at this camp. He wants to watch them in the classroom and on the field before starting to decide on what he calls "our Redskin family."
Gibbs says he expects every player under contract, with the exception of John Riggins, to be on the field Thursday morning.
"Unless they have a good reason not to come, I can't help but form an opinion if someone doesn't show up," said Gibbs, although he acknowledges attendance at the camp is voluntary. The only mandatory camp will be May 7-9.
"My thought is that this is their profession, and if they want to be good at it, they'd want to come here and show us what they can do," Gibbs said. "I'd only be lying if I said differently.
"It doesn't mean they'd be out, but it would show me something about how they think. Besides, what we do this season will start from how this camp goes. I want to see who's in shape, who wants to work hard, what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses."
Gibbs intends to instill as much of his contemporary, pass-oriented offense as possible in the three days. The Redskins will be given plays before the morning session. Then they'll practice them immediately, watch the results on film (Gibbs will have practices filmed with two cameras instead of the usual one) and then receive more instruction before the afternoon workout. And at night, everything will be reviewed.
The players will find significant changes at Redskin Park and in how the team will perform:
Gibbs has a larger (by three coaches) and younger staff than Pardee. General Manager Bobby Beathard insists the assistants will be more active on the practice field and will be better instructors than their predecessors.The staff's enthusiasm appears to reflect that of a college staff rather than the more business-like pro approach.
Workouts will be longer. Pardee tried to keep his practices reasonably short, although the players still thought they were too lengthy. Gibbs already acknowledges his will run up to three hours some days.
Certain aspects of both offensive and defensive techniques will be taught differently from last year. Instead of being passibe at the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, the defensive line will be asked to mount an immediate pass rush. Offensive linemen will do more man-to-man blocking on pass protection, instead of using last year's zone principles, and they'll be told to be more aggressive on run blocking. Running backs will be instructed to attack the defense instead of relying so heavily on finesse.
Gibbs feels the passing game will be substantially different. He helped design San Diego's sophisticated attack, which relies on multiple passing sets. Although the Redskins, under Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton, were noted for their various alignments, this offense probably will be even more intricate, putting particular pressure on the receivers to learn the many pattern variations.
Lunches will be catered, eliminating the former bring-your-own policy. Gibbs is convinced even this small switch will give him more time each day and keep the players' minds on football.
The camp also will serve as what Gibbs calls "a feeling-out process" for him and the players. He has talked to most of them already on the phone, but has yet to meet many players face to face. He will find a younger club than the one Pardee ended with, thanks to the departure of three 36-year-old players (Diron Talbert, Paul Smith and Ken Houston) and Pete Wysocki, 32. He'll also find a club needing more quickness and depth, especially along the two lines and in the offensive backfield.
In turn, the players will find a vastly different coach from the one they had last year.
Gibbs is much more outgoing than Pardee, much more anxious to converse with his players. He also is offense-oriented; Pardee was a defensive specialist. Gibbs is intent on becoming a motivator, while Pardee relied more heavily on players pushing themselves to get ready.
Ever since he was hired in January, Gibbs has been a whirlwind. Besides buying a house and hiring one of the highest-paid staffs in the league, he has put together the playbooks, agreed to do radio and television shows (again on WDVM-TV-9 and WMAL radio), attended the league meetings in Hawaii, traveled with scouts to work out potential draft picks, designed with his staff individual weightlifting programs for the players, visited Riggins in Kansas and made a few speaking appearances.
"Yeah, it's been hectic," said Gibbs, dressed in a brown warm-up suit while sitting behind his desk at Redskin Park. "I found that when I have a few hours to relax, it's a real luxury. Everyone has been going pretty good. Most of us have been living in apartments in Reston until our families move here, and we've been doing little but working pretty steady."
Gibbs is determined to sell his program around his Redskin family and team-effort concepts. He talks about both constantly, much as Dick Vermeil used strong themes to bring his rebuilding program to Philadelphia.
"We want to create the kind of atmosphere here that makes everyone comfortable," he said. "We want the players to come around and visit in the offseason and not feel they are going to be pressured to work out.
"I think the players will buy our ideas about teamwork. We want them to see where it is important for them to sacrifice their individual talents for the betterment of the team. If the players don't want to fit in, if they want to be selfish, then it will be up to us to decide, 'Is this guy worth keeping around?'"
Gibbs has waited years for this moment: his bebut as a head coach. He says it's been enjoyable knowing he doesn't have to check his decisions with someone down the hall or feeling that he was still preparing "to go somewhere else, to another team. Now I'm finally where I want to be.
"I'm just very anxious for this camp to start. We've done as much as we can. Now we need to start working with the players."
Any experimenting at positions will be done at the May camp, Gibbs said, adding that he will work initially with the same starters who ended last season . . . Gibbs wants to use quarterback Joe Theismann on rollouts frequently, something that couldn't be done with San Diego's Dan Fouts . . . Gibbs has high hopes for running back Wilbur Jackson, who had funmbling problems at the end of last season . . . "I'll know better what we need in the draft after this camp," Gibbs said.