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 Minnesota.
"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 trouble-filled years?
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."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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