The Washington Redskins' first opponent of the 2006 season proved pretty tough yesterday.
The Redskins, coming off their first playoff appearance and victory since 1999 a year ago, battled mid-90-degree temperatures and a heat index north of 100 as they opened training camp at sweltering Redskin Park, where a minimal breeze provided minimal comfort.
Six weeks before they open the season against the Minnesota Vikings, the Redskins went through a up-tempo, two-hour workout in front of 2,700 fans, including some who tailgated in a nearby gravel parking lot.
"It was pretty tough from a humidity and temperature standpoint," coach Joe Gibbs said.
Gibbs' return to the NFL in 2004 also was pretty tough -- a 6-10 record that featured a stellar defense but impotent offense.
Expectations, though, again are the in thing for the Redskins.
Last year's five-game winning streak to clinch a playoff berth and the wild-card win at Tampa Bay -- plus the addition of receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, defensive end Andre Carter, safety Adam Archuleta and offensive coaching wizard Al Saunders in the offseason -- have Redskins fans hoping for a return to NFC East prominence. The Redskins finished second in the division to the New York Giants at 10-6 last year.
The division is wide open; all four teams spent the offseason loading up. Dallas added receiver Terrell Owens, the Giants signed linebacker LaVar Arrington and two defensive backs and Philadelphia will have a healthy quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook.
But the Redskins expect not only to match last year's record but to take a big step forward.
"A year ago, we came into camp with a bad taste in our mouths, so to come off a year where we had quite a bit of success, we feel good about ourselves," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "But to [just] repeat that type of effort would honestly be a disappointment for these guys. That's not making predictions -- that's what we think and what we're hoping for."
As usual for an open training camp practice, the fans came out in force. And they were vocal. They cheered tight end Chris Cooley, roared for receiver Santana Moss and applauded for Gibbs. One fan even heckled Brunell about last year's playoff loss at Seattle.
Fans were allowed into the viewing area at 3 p.m., and a line had formed that snaked around the driveway. But several fans who showed up at 4 p.m. still were able to get front-row standing spots.
The next open practice is today at 4:30 p.m. The Redskins hold a closed practice at 8:30 a.m. Heat again will be an issue.
"I run every day, and I can't remember a hotter day this summer," Saunders said. "It was a very fatiguing day for all of us."
On a scale of 1-10, Saunders called the conditions "close to a 10," but linebacker Chris Clemons said he has been in more brutal environments. Like his home state of Georgia.
"Today was cool compared to back home," Clemons said. "Georgia is scorching in the summer, and this is a different kind of heat. But it's still hot."
Tight end Mike Sellers was the only player who had to shut it down. He experienced leg cramps halfway through practice and received three IV bags of fluid. He is expected to practice today.
Selected practices today through Thursday will be open to fans, many of whom were able to get autographs from coaches and players.
"I told the fans that us coaches and players are getting paid and they aren't," Gibbs said. "It says a lot of them to be out in this heat."