Alex Smith stood behind the Washington Redskins’ weight room Sunday afternoon, contemplating the psyche of a team he has known for only a handful of months. At first, the Redskins quarterback sounded vague about his new teammates, suggesting that you can never know the heart of a football player until the season begins, things go wrong and his desire is tested.
But then he paused and said something that hasn’t been suggested often about teams here in recent years.
“I think we have a bunch of guys who are all in,” he said.
This is no small matter because football teams are fragile things, no matter how large the men who play the game. Personal interests get in the way. Some players lose motivation; some never have it. Dedication is a hard concept when most predictions say your team is destined to finish last in its division.
These Redskins are not much like other Washington teams of the past. The locker room is not packed with big names who have had flashy careers. A word rarely used around the current group is drama. And when have you been able to say that about a Redskins team? But quietly, several players have suggested something is building despite a lack of hype, something noticed only in their facility.
“I don’t think that’s the case everywhere,” Smith added. “I think for a lot of guys it’s easy not to invest because it’s scary — scary to put yourself out there knowing you might not succeed. But I think we have a bunch of guys who are all in, who are invested in what we are doing here, and I think that’s all you can ask for. It’s a tough team that’s not afraid of competition, and they toe the line. That’s apparent through camp up until this point.”
After 13 seasons in San Francisco and Kansas City, Smith has been around enough players and teams to understand which ones believe and which do not. As Washington tight end Vernon Davis, who was Smith’s teammate years ago with the 49ers, said Sunday: “Thirteen years, you see all those things.”
Then Davis went even further than Smith in his observation of this team.
“All the guys in here are great athletes, but this team has everything you are looking for from a group,” Davis said. “Nobody in here is about himself. I can’t go around this room and say: ‘This guy is egotistic.’ ”
He was asked whether he could say such a thing about all the other teams for which he has played. He laughed.
“Oh, no,” he said.
Perhaps this seems like a silly thing to discuss in August. Washington has played just two preseason games, and most of its top players have appeared in one or two series of just one of those games. The Redskins don’t have many proven stars, and their most promising offensive playmaker, Derrius Guice, is out for the year with a knee injury. There isn’t a ton on paper that says this is any kind of surprise team.
And yet when it comes to the little things that players observe, the tiny details they believe might make a team better, there continue to be suggestions that this group has a higher level of commitment than normal.
“I think it’s an accumulation going back to April or whatever, all the way up to this date,” Smith said. “[It’s] how [a player] carries himself in the locker room and the film room and the weight room, on the practice field and when you are in camp riding the shuttle bus together. You can tell, I think, how invested they all are. You can tell who is real, who is authentic. I think that quickly becomes apparent when you put all those things together.
“You can see what guys are really made of, who’s faking it. And I think we have a bunch of guys who are all in.”
Of course, things can change. Washington is already looking at adding established running backs such as Jamaal Charles, who visited Sunday, or Adrian Peterson, who will meet with team officials Monday. A star can make a difference on the field but also can change the chemistry of a locker room for better or for worse.
“You don’t know what you are made of [as a team] until you get put into situations where the intensity gets turned up, the pressure gets turned up, you’re facing tough times,” Smith said. “How are you going to handle it? How are you going to respond when adversity comes?”
For now, though, he looks around a new locker room, filled with new faces, and he gets a feeling he hasn’t always had from a team.