For the Washington Redskins, business no longer is just about ownership maneuverings, front office changes and legal threats.
Today, rookies and selected veterans report to training camp in Frostburg, Md., and the Redskins finally will begin finding out whether they can end their six-season playoff drought.
New quarterback Brad Johnson and a pair of rookies who could be opening day starters -- tackle Jon Jansen and cornerback Champ Bailey -- are among the players scheduled to report today. Counting newcomers and players switching positions, 16 of the 22 starters on offense and defense likely will be different from the ones in last year's season-opening loss to the New York Giants.
"We got a lot done this offseason," Coach Norv Turner said. ". . . There's a lot of work to do when you make those kinds of changes. But I really believe we've gotten a lot done to improve our team."
New owner Daniel M. Snyder has made it clear he will not tolerate more losing from the Redskins, who began last season with seven defeats and finished with a 6-10 record. Snyder has fired approximately 25 front office employees, and Charley Casserly stepped aside as the team's general manager Friday to serve the remainder of his contract as a consultant to Snyder.
The Redskins believe the parts are there, especially after adding three potential starters -- defensive end Marco Coleman, offensive tackle Andy Heck and fullback Larry Centers -- in relatively inexpensive free agent signings late in the offseason.
Redskins players say they're ready to go immediately.
"We haven't done that well in the preseason the last couple years, and then we get into the season and we don't win as many games as we expected," defensive end Kenard Lang said. ". . . We need to play hard and do well in the preseason, and it will carry over into the season. I think we have a good team, and we should all be motivated by what happened last year so we don't have to go through that again."
The rest of the Redskins veterans are scheduled to report to Frostburg on Wednesday. But veterans who ended last season on the injured reserve list or who underwent surgery during the offseason are permitted to report today, so the Redskins' run of injuries last year will be a small bonus now. They will have the bulk of their team on hand today.
"We'll get a lot more done in the first three days than normally," Turner said. "We can get a head start with those guys."
The Redskins are counting heavily upon Johnson, for whom they surrendered first-, second- and third-round draft picks over a two-year span in a February trade with the Minnesota Vikings after losing quarterback Trent Green via free agency. The Redskins signed veteran Rodney Peete as a backup, but they know they probably need a healthy and effective Johnson to be a serious playoff contender this season. Johnson underwent two arthroscopic knee surgeries during the offseason, and Turner has indicated he may limit Johnson's training camp repetitions when it comes to small-scale, individual drills.
"In watching Brad work out, you'd say he's 100 percent," Turner said. But "when you've had a scope and you get some soreness, what you do is limit the number of reps you take."
The Redskins also will watch carefully wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who is coming off offseason surgery to have a herniated disk in his neck repaired. Albert Connell takes over at the other wide receiver spot for the departed Leslie Shepherd, and Stephen Alexander inherits the starting tight end job from Jamie Asher. Skip Hicks probably will get the first shot to start at tailback for the departed Terry Allen, although Turner has said Stephen Davis also will get significant playing time. Centers seems to have the edge on incumbent Larry Bowie for the starting fullback job.
The offensive line, which yielded a franchise-record 61 sacks last season, is an area where the Redskins must improve dramatically. Jansen will be handed the right tackle job unless he proves he can't handle it. Heck will be given a chance to start at left tackle in a training camp competition with holdovers Shar Pourdanesh and Joe Patton and newcomer Jamie Brown. Center Cory Raymer and guards Brad Badger and Tre Johnson open training camp as starters, although veteran guard Keith Sims could win some playing time.
The Redskins hope to be younger, quicker and better on defense. The team plans to have a new set of starting linebackers. Derek Smith moves from the outside to take over for the departed Marvcus Patton at middle linebacker. Greg Jones inherits Ken Harvey's outside linebacker spot, with Harvey slated to be a third-down pass rusher after being re-signed for a reduced salary. Shawn Barber becomes a starter at the other outside linebacker slot, and the Redskins hope he adds consistency to the flashes of big-play capability he demonstrated last season as a rookie.
With the addition of Coleman to Lang and defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson, the Redskins could open the season with four former first-round draft choices starting on their defensive line. Stubblefield and Wilkinson were supposed to be last season's saviors. Wilkinson made amends for a quiet first half of the season with a some big plays down the stretch, and the Redskins can only hope Stubblefield redeems himself following a miserable 1998 season in which he played in seven games -- all losses -- then didn't return from a knee injury.
The secondary could be the team's biggest strength, if cornerback Darrell Green has enough left in his legs at age 39. The Redskins are counting on Bailey to be a starter early in the regular season, if not at the outset, and believe free agent signee Sam Shade will be a major contributor at one safety position. Leomont Evans becomes a full-time starter at the other safety spot.
The team will conduct a competition among Cary Blanchard, Brett Conway and Jeff Hall for its place kicking job. Meanwhile, the Redskins will hope for some pleasant training camp surprises. Wide receiver Nigel Williams, a former Canadian Football League player who was impressive in the Redskins' summer minicamps, is one possibility. New director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato also has pledged to continue to try to make a major trade before the season, probably involving at least one of the club's three first-round selections in next year's draft.
Redskins Training Camp
A look at the Washington Redskins as they begin camp today:
Aug. 13 at New England 7:30 WRC-4
Aug. 20 Buffalo 8 WRC-4
Aug. 28 at Pittsburgh 7:30 WRC-4
Sept. 3 Tampa Bay 8 WRC-4
If You're Going
When: Today through Aug. 19.
Where: Frostburg State University, Frostburg, Md.
Practice schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday -- 3:15 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday -- 9:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.; Saturday -- 9:15 a.m. Practices are free and open to the public; times are subject to change.
Scrimmages: vs. Pittsburgh in Frostburg on Aug. 7 at 11 a.m.
Open practices: vs. Pittsburgh in Frostburg on Aug. 3 at 3 p.m.; vs. Pittsburgh at St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa., on Aug. 10 at 3 p.m.
Fan appreciation day: Aug. 4. Gates open at 2 p.m. The Redskins band and cheerleaders will perform before practice. There will be autograph sessions both before and after practice.