- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. The sleepy crowd at Biddle Field let out a small cheer every time Rod Gardner caught the ball yesterday morning. That made for quite a few cheers.
The Washington Redskins' rookie wide receiver, joining practice after missing four days of training camp due to a contract holdout, showed few ill effects from the time lost. Although coach Marty Schottenheimer claimed not to have watched Gardner closely, teammates acknowledged that the draft's 15th overall pick looked sharp.
Gardner displayed quick starts and stops and sharp cuts in his routes, as well as his trademark strength and ball-catching ability.
Highlighting the morning session were his catch on a ball off Donnell Bennett's hands, his adjustment on a buttonhook thrown a bit soon and low, and a deep crossing pattern that began with him wide open and ended with him stiff-arming fellow former holdout Fred Smoot.
The latter play closed a drill and several Redskins walked over to congratulate Gardner. Later, after the team was chastised by Schottenheimer for its overall effort in practice, other players excluded Gardner when discussing their substandard intensity.
"Rod looked real good for it to be his first day," said Smoot, the second-round cornerback who first practiced Wednesday. "He caught a couple of deep passes; he even caught a pass [the one off Bennett's hands] that wasn't meant for him."
Gardner was surprised that he wasn't more tired. He acknowledged being eager to spend extra time with the playbook something that is taking place in individual meetings with position coach Richard Mann but generally he felt on track for the Aug. 12 preseason opener at Kansas City. And Gardner was especially happy to be practicing in pads after holding back during non-contact workouts.
"Full pads is what I do," said Gardner, who bench presses more than 400 pounds. "I love full pads because I can get physical. When we're in shorts, all I can do is run around. It's basically a skeleton practice."
The effects of Gardner's missed time and Smoot's, for that matter might have been tempered by three extra days of offseason practices, which the Redskins got because Schottenheimer is a first-year coach.
In recent weeks, though, Gardner missed seven days of workouts, including three for rookies, quarterbacks and veterans returning from injuries. It was clear Schottenheimer didn't want to offer many compliments to a player who skipped so much time. Specifically, the coach said it will be difficult for Gardner to win the starting job from fifth-year veteran Kevin Lockett.
"At this point in time, I would say [that's the case]," Schottenheimer said. "But I don't want to put any ceiling on what the young man might achieve. Right now he's got to get his legs under him."
However, Schottenheimer felt confident that Gardner can catch up soon, saying, "He worked at it pretty hard when he was with us before, so I wouldn't think it would be too long until he would be in the groove."
Schottenheimer did acknowledge that it was nice finally to have his personnel issues settled. However, he didn't totally deviate from his traditional position of not caring whether Gardner and Smoot signed or sat out.
"I suppose [it's nice] to some extent," Schottenheimer said. "It's good to get that part of it behind us, so we can get the young man out here working, him and Freddy. But that's all a part of our business. As I've said before, I don't really worry about it. I've got enough things to worry about."
Gardner's mind, meanwhile, bore far less weight after signing his five-year, $7.7 million contract. He said he didn't worry about whether a deal would get done while training in Atlanta in recent weeks. But once he arrived here at about 11 p.m. Thursday night too late for any meetings or team work he wasn't sure what to expect yesterday at practice.
"Me and Smoot stayed in contact," Gardner said. "When both of us were unsigned we stayed in contact, finding out what was the progress… . Once he got into camp, he called me about 12 o'clock that night, told me how bad he was feeling out there at the first practice. He had me a little nervous."
There was no reason to be concerned. Gardner enjoyed a solid start as he prepares to contribute as a rookie, and he gave no indication that he won't be ready for the real action in coming weeks.
"I'm ready to go," Gardner said. "I'm ready to kick it into second gear."

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