Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder's decision to keep Coach Norv Turner for a seventh season was greeted as welcome news yesterday by several players, who said it removed uncertainty on the eve of the team's first playoff game since January 1993 and should provide continuity next season.
Snyder disclosed his intentions Tuesday, following the Redskins' 26-20 overtime defeat of the San Francisco 49ers, which clinched their first NFC East championship in eight years. Regardless of that game's outcome, the Redskins were playoff bound by virtue of losses by Dallas, Green Bay and Carolina.
Few players are expected to benefit from Turner's return as much as quarterback Brad Johnson, who is having his most productive season as a pro in his first year under the Redskins coach and offensive coordinator. One of three Redskins voted to the Pro Bowl, Johnson boasts a 90.1 quarterback rating (fourth-best in the NFC), has played a career-high 15 games and passed for a team-record 471 yards against San Francisco. The Redskins' offense is ranked second in the league.
Johnson credited Turner yesterday with helping him make quicker decisions, get set earlier in the pocket, make crisper reads and be more accurate with his throws.
"My whole career I've had a high completion percentage," Johnson said. "But to do it time and time again--over a 16-game season instead of the eight- or 12-game seasons I've played--I think he's the one that's going to help me raise my level of play and hopefully reach the top of the pyramid."
But if Turner proposes resting his quarterback for Sunday's season finale against Miami, Johnson said yesterday that he'll argue otherwise.
"If it's a regular season game, I want to play," Johnson said.
The game could be meaningless in terms of playoff implications for both teams. The Redskins can clinch a first-round bye if they beat Miami and both Tampa Bay and Minnesota lose. Tampa Bay plays Chicago, and Minnesota hosts Detroit earlier in the day. Miami's destiny is out of its hands entirely; the Dolphins (9-6) advance to the playoffs with a loss by Kansas City or Seattle.
Johnson said yesterday that speculation he has a tired arm was both erroneous and unfair. He seems determined to debunk what he feels is an equally unfair perception of him as injury-prone by playing a complete season.
All players have some degree of fatigue 15 games into the season, Johnson noted. What is far more significant, he said, is building momentum and confidence entering the playoffs.
"Everyone is beat up, everyone has been injured with something at this point," Johnson said. "The thing about it is: This time of year, you don't get better. At this time of year, you don't get faster. You don't get stronger. It's all about momentum. It's all about confidence. It's all about timing."
Still, if the Redskins don't have a chance at the bye come kickoff, Turner may be tempted to rest not only Johnson, but also running back Stephen Davis, who has a sprained ankle, and wide receiver Albert Connell, who has a shoulder sprain.
"First of all, I hope we're playing the game so we can get a bye. That answers all questions," Turner said. "If not, we'll just use good judgment."
When players returned to Redskin Park yesterday to begin preparations for Miami, they were greeted by twin banners draped across the facade of their Ashburn training facility that read, "1999 NFC Eastern Division Champions." Secretaries throughout the building wore burgundy baseball caps that sported the same message.
But several players hadn't heard the news that Turner would be back for next season after leading the team to its first playoff berth since Joe Gibbs's resignation following the 1992 season. Among them was center Cory Raymer, who has played for Turner since 1995, when the Redskins drafted him in the second round.
"There's only so much a coach can do," Raymer said. "You go out and play on Sunday. The coach just calls the plays, and the players have to go out and do it. I think Norv has put us in the position to win, week in and week out." "
Said fullback Mike Sellers: "It takes a lot of strain off everybody. Knowing we're going to have our coaches we've had for a while, it makes it a lot easier for us to come back, as players who already know the system, and work harder and get better at it."
Added rookie right tackle Jon Jansen: "His security means some security for the rest of us, too. It's going to be great--especially for me. I'm going to be able to stay in the same system for the first couple of years and hopefully my whole career."
Defensive players were more circumspect, partly because the future of their coach, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, is less certain, as is that of special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel.
The beleaguered defense had shown improvement since Snyder brought in veteran coach Bill Arnsparger as a consultant in October. But the unit backslid Sunday, allowing San Francisco to rush for 250 yards and gain 6.8 yards per carry.
Second-year player Shawn Barber, whose tackle forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that staved off a potential game-winning field goal by San Francisco, said he felt players should stay out of ownership decisions on coaching matters.
"At the beginning of the year, there was so much speculation about Norv," Barber said. "People asked how that would affect us going into training camp. My feeling was, I really have no control over that, so it was not anything I need to worry about. We had to play the season. Now, we're at the end of the season, and we know there's going to be another year. So how does that affect you? It doesn't affect my preparation for the upcoming game or the postseason at all. I'm going to get ready to play the game for what it is, and let the front office take care of any changes or anything that's going to stay the same."
Redskins Notes: Davis showed "marked improvement" from the sprained ankle that held him out of the San Francisco game, but didn't practice yesterday and remains questionable for Sunday, according to trainer Bubba Tyer. Davis walked about 30 minutes on a treadmill, ran in a pool and rode a stationary bike. Tyer said he hoped Davis would rejoin practice Friday. . . . Connell (sprained shoulder, pinched nerve) also missed practice but may be ready to resume workouts Friday. . . . Guard Brad Badger (sprained right ankle) had a limited practice, but still has trouble cutting on the field.