When they walked out of their Sunday afternoon movies, some of the Washington Redskins coaches called Saturday's 30-25 scrimmage loss to the New York Jets "a learning experience."
Whether that's a euphemism or the honest-to-goodness truth remains to be seen.
But, in the early days of a football preseason, when nothing at all seems defined, it has become clear that the Redskins are not exactly where Coach Joe Gibbs would want them to be after a little more than two weeks of training camp.
"I don't think we're on course," he said tonight as he walked out of a 3 1/2-hour film session with his offensive coaches. "We got beat in a scrimmage, so I'd have to say we're not on course.
"If we win, we're on course. Next week (after the first preseason game at Atlanta), things could change and we'll be back on course. But right now, I'd have to say the Jets are farther along than we are."
Gibbs said the Jets, who lost to the Redskins, 45-10, at the same point last preseason, "did as much in a scrimmage as I've ever seen done."
He singled out the Jets' new 3-4 defense, with all its combinations, including a blitzing Mark Gastineau at end.
"They gave us problems with that," Gibbs said.
He said everything the Jets did was within the rules of the scrimmage. "I think they're just a better football team (than they were a year ago)," he said, adding that the 40-point shift in fortunes belongs in large part to the Jets' improvement.
Perhaps the Redskins' most noticeable concern tonight is its defensive secondary, so full of promise with rookies Barry Wilburn and Raphel Cherry, but also so full of question marks.
"They had their share of mistakes," said assistant head coach-defense Richie Petitbon. "It's going to be a growing experience for these guys. We knew experience would be a key factor. We wouldn't say it (their scrimmage performance) was totally unexpected."
Wilburn was beaten a couple of times by quarterbacks Ken O'Brien and Pat Ryan. A week ago, two crunching hits drew raves from the coaches. Today, they were in effect saying, "Not so fast."
"It's always the case in training camp with rookies," Petitbon said. "It's very premature. We think they have the ability to play. When they can play remains to be seen."
Watching the scrimmage on the sideline, taking mental notes of his peers' performances, was rookie cornerback Tory Nixon. Because he flew in from San Diego Friday night after ending his holdout, he did not play in the scrimmage.
He is expected to play against the Falcons Saturday night.
"I hope so. I want to. I'll make sure I play," Nixon said earlier in the day, one of the few players who did not leave camp on a day off. "I've had enough sitting."
For more than two weeks, Nixon stayed at home. His two main duties were working out and listening for the phone. He was hoping agent Larry Muno would tell him he had agreed to a contract with the Redskins. Thursday, he finally did, a four-year, $990,000 package.
"It was real unfortunate it took so long," Nixon said, "but I'm glad it's over. I'm going to put it behind me and just play ball now."
He said he doesn't believe he is all that far behind the others. "I didn't miss that much mental stuff," he said. "There's a long way to go in camp. I'm still going to fight for a job."
Nixon wants to play a little this week; running back George Rogers wants to play more.
When Gibbs told Rogers he was being taken out of the scrimmage after just four carries for 13 yards, Roger said he wanted "to go more," the coach said.
Gibbs said no.
"I thought that was enough," he said. "We took out our first-string line. Four carries was enough."
Rogers also got a chance to try out his blocking. Assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said Rogers "kayoed" one linebacker, "knocking him head over heels on a downfield block."
The Redskins don't want to overwork Rogers in the event AWOL running back John Riggins does not return.
Riggins has not spoken with owner Jack Kent Cooke since last Monday, leaving the Redskins wondering what he wants to do. There was no contact between the two today, Cooke said. Riggins has an answering machine on and is not returning calls.
Part of the coaches' time today was spent on trying to figure out if -- when the final roster cut is made in September -- a third quarterback is more important than, say, an eighth defensive lineman or another special teams player.
There is increasing speculation that the Redskins might keep just two quarterbacks with the new 45-man roster limit. The coaches say it's too early to tell, but the battle between Jay Schroeder and Babe Laufenberg may end up being winner-takes-all, loser-leaves-town.
At wide receiver, the Redskins seem set with Nos. 1 through 3: Art Monk, Charlie Brown and Calvin Muhammad, in no particular order. But who's No. 4?
It appears likely he will be Gary Clark, the former U.S. Football League receiver from James Madison University. He gives the Redskins a dual-purpose player (he returns punts, too) with excellent speed and 1 1/2 years of pro experience.
Of Clark, Gibbs said, "He looked very good." His statistics: three catches for 24 yards. Only rookie Joe Phillips caught more passes, with four for 50 yards and the Redskins' only touchdown.