With owner Daniel M. Snyder observing from the sideline, the Washington Redskins concluded a spirited and productive first week of training camp today. A week full of promising signs ended with the most positive development of all, as quarterback Brad Johnson said he believes he has removed all doubts about the soundness of his surgically repaired left knee.
"I felt like I got better as the week went along," Johnson said following the team's second two-hour practice of the day. "Today I had to scramble twice, and I did pretty good. It hasn't affected my aim or my timing with the receivers. I've taken every snap I was supposed to. I feel like I'm moving better and my leg is feeling stronger. I feel like I could play a game today, but thank goodness we still have another four and a half or five weeks before our first game."
Snyder traveled here by helicopter and, along with his father Gerald and minority owner Fred Drasner, watched the afternoon practice. He didn't see the Redskins' sharpest practice of the week. But he did see the intensity that has led several longtime observers of the team to say this week included some of the club's best practices of Coach Norv Turner's tenure.
"We've been practicing at an awfully high level," Turner said between today's sessions.
Training camp began on an ominous note for the Redskins, with Johnson limping through a couple of practices early in the week. Redskins officials said publicly they weren't concerned about Johnson's health, but some members of the organization privately conceded it was a bit alarming to see how Johnson was moving.
The Redskins have plenty riding on Johnson after trading first-, second- and third-round draft choices over a two-year span to the Minnesota Vikings for him in February. He participated in one offseason minicamp with the Redskins, then missed another after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee for the second time since last season ended.
Johnson said today there no longer should be concern about his knee.
"It was a new story," he said. "I missed a minicamp, so it was a very logical question. And there wasn't anything else going on. . . . I haven't been asked that question in five days now, so I think it was just something to talk about on the first day."
Snyder said he is convinced that Johnson is healthy.
"Everything I've heard is that he's ninety-nine percent and ready to go," the owner said.
One week into training camp, the Redskins already know that if Johnson can stay healthy, he can be special. He delivers the ball quickly, confidently and accurately, and he has a presence the Redskins haven't had from their quarterbacks in recent seasons.
"It felt great for a first week of practice," Johnson said. "Personally, I feel like I threw the ball well. I've taken all the reps I was supposed to. I feel like I'm sharp. I just want to get a little sharper and understand the system better. Physically, I feel like my knee is holding up. I'm moving really well."
The Redskins saw plenty to be encouraged about this week. Their top two draft choices, cornerback Champ Bailey and tackle Jon Jansen, seemed ready to be immediate starters. Turner said today that if the season were beginning now, Jansen would be the starting right tackle. The team appears to have more depth on its offensive line than it had last season.
Guard Tre Johnson and defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield reported to camp in shape and ready to play after coming off injuries. The team looks quicker and more energetic on defense, with defensive end Marco Coleman--a free agent signee from the San Diego Chargers--providing much-needed enthusiasm.
"A guy like Marco is like a sparkplug," Turner said. "He gets things started. Guys are responding to his type of play."
Snyder has made it clear he is taking a no-nonsense approach, and so far his players have shown diligent on-field work habits.
"I think everybody has really worked hard," tight end Stephen Alexander said. "I think we've had a great few days, and we just need to keep doing what we're doing."
Snyder's helicopter landed on a practice field at Frostburg State University late in the morning. He went to lunch with Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' new director of player personnel. He signed some autographs for fans in front of the stands before the afternoon practice, then watched the workout and huddled with Turner afterward.
"It's exciting. It sure is hot, though," said Snyder, who ditched his jacket but didn't remove his tie on this steamy afternoon.
He has kept in touch daily with Turner--whom he has given the final say over all player-related personnel decisions--and Cerrato by telephone. And he said he intends to make regular trips to training camp. He said the Redskins aren't optimistic about prying running back Barry Sanders out of retirement and away from the Detroit Lions, but reiterated his hope that the team can make a major acquisition or two before the season.
"We're always looking to improve the team," Snyder said. "We're going to look at every opportunity that comes along. . . . We're just waiting for opportunities."
Since Snyder and his partners purchased the team and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for $800 million, he has said he expects the Redskins to end their six-season playoff drought this season.
He said today: "Now I really expect it."