Cornerback Fred Smoot flew to his home town of Jackson, Miss., yesterday to relax with his family and have his mother apply red clay to his injured shoulders. Right guard Randy Thomas departed for Atlanta, where he owns a restaurant not far from his home in East Point, Ga.
"A trip down memory lane," Thomas said in the Washington Redskins' locker room, which emptied quickly following yesterday's 90-minute practice.
Most players headed to various locales to take advantage of a bye week that frees them from practice until Monday. Their next game is on Halloween against the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field.
"I'm not even going to watch football on television," running back Clinton Portis said.
However, there is no respite for Coach Joe Gibbs and his staff, particularly those coaches whose job it is to revive the floundering offense. Gibbs's assistants will take the weekend off, but until then they plan on working their typical long hours to tweak the passing game of the 28th-ranked offense in the 32-team league.
"We're kind of locked away," said Gibbs, who plans to see his grandchildren during his time off. "We're going to keep working here."
No area needs as much work as quarterback Mark Brunell connecting with his receivers. In Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Chicago Bears, tailback Clinton Portis ran for 171 yards and the team had a season-high 218 rushing yards. So in the Redskins' only practices this week -- Tuesday and yesterday -- the club didn't work on any run plays. Instead, the offense worked strictly on pass protection and deep passing drills.
Brunell has drawn the most criticism for Washington's passing woes, completing 51.2 percent with only three passes of 30 yards or more. But Gibbs believes that Brunell is taking too much heat -- from pass rushers. (Gibbs counted four times against the Bears that pass-protection breakdowns caused Brunell to be flushed out of the pocket.)
Yesterday, the Redskins' first unit worked extensively against defensive coach Gregg Williams's blitz-heavy schemes. "If you can pick up our defensive blitzes, you can pick up anybody's," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach of offense, "because we blitz 13 [defenders] sometimes, it seems."
One new player in the starting lineup was tight end Robert Royal, who replaced Walter Rasby. Royal had been the backup for Rasby, who surprisingly was released Tuesday. Rasby's departure came after the 10-year veteran struggled against the Bears when the Redskins adjusted their blocking schemes. Nonetheless, Gibbs, echoing other assistants, said that Rasby's departure wasn't because of a shift in offensive philosophy. Bugel noted that Fred Baxter, who will back up Royal, was perhaps Washington's best pass-blocking tight end during training camp before his right knee injury.
Royal's NFL career has been filled with injuries since being selected in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. But Royal is excited at the opportunity.
"I'm sorry Walter had to go," Royal said, "but I'm grateful to get the chance. I'll be pretty much called on to do the same thing: to pass and run block. That's the philosophy of the offense and it won't change no matter who's the tight end."
Washington's biggest change in its running schemes Sunday was cut blocking -- blocking defenders below the waist -- for the first time by the offensive line. However, right tackle Chris Samuels said that the overall execution was the biggest reason for Sunday's production.
"Every game plan we've had has been almost the same thing. We had those three-wideout packages in other games," said Samuels, referring to schemes implemented to give Portis more space. "It's just that in that game, doing the right things, everybody kind of noticed it."
Bugel agreed, and said that Portis showed more patience instead of trying to make a big play each time using his uncanny vision to read the play. "His eyes were at the point of attack," Bugel said, "instead of wandering."
Samuels (ankle) was among 18 players who remained in the area to get treatment. Although Washington snapped a four-game losing streak against the Bears, players and coaches scoffed at the notion that the bye week was untimely. "We're gaining momentum," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, "by having a chance to have guys back on the field."
Gibbs added: "It couldn't have come at a better time. We'd have a tough time lining up with everybody if we'd have to play this weekend."
Arrington (right knee surgery) and defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin) are expected back in the starting lineup after each missing three games. And middle linebacker Mike Barrow (acute tendinitis) likely will make his Redskins debut soon. Antonio Pierce, filling in for Barrow, has led a group of obscure players to help Washington's unit reach a No. 2 ranking in the NFL. But Williams is thrilled to have the option of meshing several returning starters into his sturdy unit. "As I've said 15,000 times," Williams said, "we have a lot of packages."
Gibbs believes the bye week will also help Brunell mend fully from a hamstring pull suffered early in the season. But trainer John Burrell, who was with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- Brunell's former team -- for seven years, joked about Brunell's nagging injuries: "Mark will never be 100 percent until he retires."
Redskins Notes: Arrington, 26, got engaged last month and is planning to get married in June. Arrington declined to disclose the name of his fiancee.