For the past seven months Joe Gibbs has prepared for this day, when the Washington Redskins would be back on the field in full pads and, after 11 years away from football, training camp would be under way. The time to mold this team in the summer heat has finally arrived, leaving the Hall of Fame coach both nervous and excited.
Gibbs spoke of those emotions during a news conference at Redskins Park yesterday while his players began arriving at the nearby National Conference Center to check into their rooms and officially report for duty. Gibbs, 63, said he has been embarrassed by all the attention he has received since ending his retirement in January and is eager for the spotlight to shift to what the team is trying to accomplish this season, leaving his three Super Bowl titles in the past.
"The Super Bowl trophies and all of that is great," Gibbs said. "But that's the past, that was a long time ago, and I think it's great for the franchise and it's neat to be a part of a franchise that has a history like this. . . . But what all of us here now are focused on is not those Super Bowls, it's the future. I believe that our players want to achieve and build something that great in modern times. . . . Now it's good to get out there and start matching up."
Gibbs will try to balance his desire to run an intense and demanding five weeks of training camp at Redskins Park -- the first two of which are open to the public, beginning with sessions at 9 a.m. and 4:30 today -- with the need to keep players fresh and healthy.
Gibbs must also sort through a quarterback controversy -- he brought in Pro Bowl veteran Mark Brunell to battle young incumbent Patrick Ramsey for the starting position -- and, perhaps most daunting, determine whether he can rekindle his coaching magic and recreate his success with a new generation of players in a very different NFL with huge salaries the norm and a salary cap making it difficult to keep a team together very long.
The pressure and the expectations all rest squarely with Gibbs.
"You've got [owner] Dan [Snyder] picking you," Gibbs said. "You have [Vice President of Football Operations] Vinny [Cerrato] and all the front-office people counting on you, all the fans are counting on you and certainly all of the coaches you recruited here, their careers and lives are at stake on making the Redskins better. . . . So I worry about letting everybody down, that's what I'm concerned about. . . . When you lose games it's not so much me, it's everybody you let down.
"The whole town here is counting on something happening and one of the things you worry about is everybody's perception of what's going to happen. Everyone has high expectations and you realize those high expectations are good to get everybody excited, but are pretty hard to live up to."
Gibbs addressed a wide variety of issues yesterday. He praised Snyder for providing everything he asked for, from spending millions on top players and the coaching staff to constructing a lavish lounge for the players and replacing the worn practice fields at the training facility in Ashburn. The quality of the facilities and the strong security presence convinced Gibbs to hold training camp at Redskins Park -- he used to have camp in Carlisle, Pa. -- but he admitted there will be many more distractions. "I'm anxious to see how this works," he said.
Gibbs expects the battle between Brunell and Ramsey to last until the final week of camp and said he feels like a first-year coach -- "It's a big learning experience for me," he said -- altering how he will handle preseason practices and exhibition games. While vowing initially to work fewer all-nighters upon returning to the Redskins, Gibbs now concedes he will likely be a workaholic again.
The coach's biggest fear is losing key players to injury in the preseason, and he and his staff have constructed drills to limit injuries, but a physical camp will be run to acclimate the players to the intensity of the regular season. Gibbs said he will continue adapting as well as he studies Washington's opponents and implements game plans.
"Everybody knows just because you did something once doesn't mean you can do it again," Gibbs said. "I guess that's part of the fun. I guess I always liked doing the hard things, and this is going to be extremely hard."
Redskins Notes: Gibbs said rookie safety Sean Taylor (minor knee sprain) may be held out of today's practices as a precaution but will return shortly. . . . There is still no timetable for cornerback Walt Harris's return from a knee injury but he is making good progress, Gibbs said. . . . Defensive tackle Brandon Noble's recovery from major knee surgery has been "unbelievable" Gibbs said, but he may be limited to participating in only one training session per day to prevent a setback. . . . Wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who is battling a nagging toe injury, performed well in a recent passing camp, Gibbs said, and will be monitored closely by the training staff throughout camp. The trainers are experimenting with different padding devices in Coles's cleats to try to eliminate the discomfort.