RICHMOND — Greetings from Camp No Trauma-No Drama, where the head coach and the quarterback don’t verbally spar between two-a-days, everyone has thus far escaped serious injury, a diva of a Philadelphia wide receiver has become an exemplary Washington teammate and no one has failed a drug test. Really, the closest thing to controversy is when Bruce Allen or Robert Griffin III brings up last year.
No genuine distractions. No personality clashes. No ulterior motives. Just bumpin’ helmets and poppin’ in full pads, just — heraldic trumpets, please — football.
Like any first-year coach trying to forge an identity, Jay Gruden loves this.
Like any cable TV series that needs a dramatic story line, HBO would hate this.
If their cameras showed up in Richmond instead of Atlanta tomorrow, they would have to re-christen their annual series of grit and gossip “Love Taps.”
“I feel like this is the first time there hasn’t been any drama in training camp since I’ve been here,” nine-year veteran Chris Chester said. “It’s good just to focus on football and not field questions about quarterbacks and all the things we had to deal with last year.”
“The most frustrating thing last year was we had the weapons, we had a good locker room and we couldn’t put it together,” he added, pointing to the Mike Shanahan-Griffin clash that immolated a season a year ago. “You end up getting sucked into discussions and debates that take up half your time. Worst of all, they take you away from football.”
Brian Orakpo smiled and wiped his brow after the morning’s full practice. “No distractions,” he said. “It’s good that we can just come out here and strive to be a Super Bowl team without any interruptions this year. It’s actually great.”
This is bad for TMZ, Nancy Grace and other trash-gathering media outlets. This is really swell and overdue for an organization that only knows extremes.
Boring is good in Washington right now. Vanilla should be the entire roster and coaching staff’s preferred flavor. When you’ve gone from NFC East champs with a rock-solid future just 19 months ago to a 3-13 abyss and the great uncertainty of what lay ahead a year later, you’ve left yourself no room for a middle ground. You end up a bipolar franchise with violent mood swings.
One minute, Daniel Snyder has visions of a parade and the next he’s back to square one, back to his old Change The Coach movement.
Gruden really has the no-frills, just-a-football-lifer qualities to put himself in a good spot. He doesn’t deal with the past or the future. The responsibility of 22 years and counting without a Lombardi trophy is not his to shoulder.
Gruden needs to worry about this team this week. That’s it. It would be good if the team president and quarterback could ensure that happens, too, instead of Allen dropping a quote like “it was disrespectful to the game” for Griffin to play at the start of last season last week in a radio interview.
Whether that was a late hit on Shanahan starting a still-rehabbing Griffin after holding him out the entire preseason or merely trying to run interference and bond with Griffin, it didn’t matter. Allen is smart enough to know he needs to make this about 2014, not 2013. Same with Griffin, who occasionally allows a thinly disguised shot to slip.
The good news is the team has made him available to the media daily rather than weekly. (Shanahan thought John Elway used to get overwhelmed and put the kibosh on his QB talking more than once a week. What he didn’t realize is Griffin likes to talk more than Elway and is generally a more candid athlete). Not only does a personable guy with myriad thoughts about football, life and domestic animals get to be unplugged, but the cryptic, once-a-week quotes aren’t blown out of proportion for the following six days. Now they only have a 24-hour shelf life.
Either way, it really is night and day around here a year later.
“Knock on wood, it’s been drama free,” Barry Cofield said. “The best teams I’ve been on is when we went to camp under the radar. I get it, the fans and the media want the extremes. But staying in the middle is good for this team right now. It’s good for any team really, just flying under the radar, boring, no one is noticing you.
“And the next thing you know you’re 6-0 and people want to know what’s going on inside that locker room. By that time you’re already a strong close-knit group. You’ve built that bond. Hopefully we can get to that point.”
Now, okay, you’ve gotten this far and you’re thinking, “This is the same honeymoon period Mike Shanahan flourished in four years ago.” In fact, if you Google Shanahan and “Adults in Charge,” you’ll come up with many hits.
But the difference is Shanahan already had proved his worth as an NFL head coach. Washington was a place to show he hadn’t lost it, and Snyder was an owner who would pay him handsomely.
Jay Gruden needs this for validation. He needs to bring order and focus to an organization that lost it in a blink. And if that means Camp No Trauma-No Drama is all-about-football vanilla, even better.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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