Tuesday, September 5, 2006
NFL 2006: Redskins' thoughts of grandeur get temper
WASHINGTON -- At the end of another steamy day of training
camp practice, Washington Redskins assistant coach Joe Bugel was
asked how he was keeping his veteran offensive line motivated.
"Super Bowl," Bugel answered, short and quick.
When asked for his goals for the year, running back Clinton
Portis was nearly as succinct: "Win the NFC East. Win the NFC
championship game. Win the Super Bowl."
Defensive end Phillip Daniels? "Home-field advantage in the
playoffs -- and 95,000 people screaming for us. That's what we're
shooting for this season."
Quarterback Mark Brunell? "Anything short of going all the way,
honestly, would be a disappointment."
Even coach Joe Gibbs, according to assistants Bugel and Al
Saunders, made a speech to the team early this year in which he
said: "Winning is good, but we're here to win it all."
Yes, the Redskins entered camp riding high, buoyed by last
year's playoff run and another impressive offseason shopping spree
of free agent coaches and players. After all, Gibbs didn't come out
of retirement just for the fun of it. He wants a fourth Super Bowl
title, and the people who toil around him felt everything was
intact for a championship run.
Maybe they were a bit overconfident.
Reality hit hard once preseason games began. Portis partially
dislocated his shoulder and expressed concerns the injury could
affect him all season. Cornerback Shawn Springs had abdomen surgery
and is still recovering. The team played poorly, going 0-4 with the
starting offense failing to score and the first-team defense
looking vulnerable, particularly in the secondary.
"Just when you think you're ready to take on the world,"
defensive tackle Joe Salave'a said, "it's always a humbling
experience to be grounded and lose."
Add in the fact the Redskins appear to be just one of four
good-but-not-great teams in the NFC East, where 9-7 might not make
the playoffs, and the feelings at Redskins Park have sobered much
during preparation for the season opener Monday night against
"We cannot look at last year and think we can just go out there
and just throw our helmets on the field and win games," Daniels
said. "We are going to come in this year and start from scratch,
and that's what we plan on doing when Minnesota comes to town."
Maybe these Redskins are already learning the lessons of the
2000 team, the overpaid group that included Deion Sanders, Bruce
Smith and Jeff George. A mediocre 8-8 season was all that team had
to show for its preseason cockiness.
The 2006 Redskins could be much better, but there are caveats
all over. Portis is in his prime, although the shoulder is a
concern. Brunell had one of his best seasons last year, but he's
about to turn 36 and has been slowed by various injuries the last
two years. New receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El join
Santana Moss and Chris Cooley to present a talented array of
options when Brunell goes back to pass, but all are still learning
the complex offense designed by Saunders, who was hired from Kansas
City in the offseason.
On defense, there are many underrated standouts, including
linemen Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels and linebacker Marcus
Washington. Everyone knows new arrival Andre Carter can rush the
quarterback and that safety Sean Taylor is an awesome presence, but
can Carter defend the run and can Taylor stay clean after two
The Redskins made free agent Adam Archuleta the highest-paid
safety ever, but he's yet to show any reliability in pass coverage.
Springs' injury revealed that the secondary isn't as deep as
originally thought. Depth, for that matter, is a problem at nearly
every position. The special teams look especially fragile, with
oft-injured kicker John Hall and inconsistent punter Derrick Frost
both surviving training camp.
The key is Gibbs, who, for the record, says he doesn't recall
making that "here to win it all" speech -- not that he would ever
admit it in public anyway. But he has shown he is able to impose
his will when necessary, especially as he weeds out players he
doesn't want. There's no way last year's team would have rallied
from 5-6 to 10-6 without Gibbs' guiding hand.
Gibbs was also smart enough to realize the responsibilities of
coach and team president were wearing him thin, so he hired
Saunders, who piled up the points and yards with the Chiefs.
"I feel much more comfortable than I did the first year,"
Gibbs said. "We can build a lot on that. You have a real good
feeling about what kind of individuals you have on the team. We are
going to lean on them. Certainly, for us, you sink or swim with
your players. I feel good about this group."
The Redskins might be as good as their own hype of a few weeks
ago, or they might be as bad as they were in the exhibition games,
but there's still plenty of confidence to go around. Moss ended the
preseason with a warning to the rest of the league.
"We have a lot of room to improve," Moss said. "But at the
same time, those teams that think we're not ready? It'll be up to
them to see if we're ready or not when it comes to gameday."