- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

The calendar says it’s the first week of June. As far as Joe Gibbs is concerned, it might as well be the last week of August.

Though he still has eight weeks until training camp starts and 14 weeks until the NFL season kicks off, Gibbs believes now is the time for the Washington Redskins to start getting serious.

“We’re getting ready to embark on three hard weeks of work,” Gibbs said yesterday on the eve of the Redskins’ third and final minicamp. “And then that’s it — we’re going to be out of here [until training camp starts]. So it’s very important for us. It’s a critical time here, three weeks of good, hard work.”

Gibbs and his staff intend to use this time — three days of minicamp at Redskin Park this weekend, followed by two more weeks of league-sanctioned “organized team activities” — to implement much of their offensive and defensive packages. The hope is that the players will have a complete grasp of the new coaching staff’s system when they break for summer vacation later this month.

Once they reconvene for training camp the last week of July, Gibbs wants players to be ready for action. The current schedule has the full squad reporting a mere 10 days before the Aug.9 preseason opener against the Denver Broncos.

“What I’ve kind of sold the players on is the fact that if you work real hard in the offseason, I’ll give them a long break, which we’re going to do,” Gibbs said. “Then I always try to bring them to camp as late as I can. Hopefully, if you can save 10 days at the start of the season, it’s going to help you at the end of the season. You’ll be that much fresher.”

Given all that, this weekend’s minicamp figures to be more intense than the previous two, with all but a handful of injured players expected to participate.

Only cornerback Walt Harris (knee) and tight end Robert Royal (knee) will be held out of practices. Another group of seven rehabbing players that includes tackle Chris Samuels (shoulder), guard Derrick Dockery (shoulder), wide receiver Darnerien McCants (shoulder) and defensive tackles Jermaine Haley (shoulder) and Brandon Noble (knee) has been cleared for limited participation. Samuels, Dockery, McCants and Haley sat out the last two minicamps, and Noble has been out since shattering his left knee in a preseason game last August.

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey (foot) and cornerback Shawn Springs (knee) have been deemed healthy. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who is still dealing with the stress fracture in his big toe that hindered him all last season, will be monitored closely and may be held out of some activities.

The overwhelming majority of players who participate the next three weeks will be subjected to some serious work that will test their offseason conditioning. They are expected to be in shape when they report.

“I think this is probably a better way of doing it than when we used to spend five weeks in [training] camp and try to get guys in shape,” Gibbs said. “This is a lot better.”

Underscoring the importance Gibbs is placing on this minicamp is his decision to close the bulk of practices to the media. After allowing reporters to watch every minute of the first two camps, Gibbs is restricting outside attendance to the first 25 minutes or so each day this weekend.

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