It was a day the Washington Redskins had looked forward to since offseason conditioning workouts began March 17 - the end of organized team activities, the last day the players had to be at Redskin Park until training camp opens July 20.
Cornerback Fred Smoot departed in a vintage Chevy convertible with the bass thumping louder than he usually mouths off during practice or in the locker room. And there were smiles on the faces of his teammates as they headed out the door and into vacations.
"I want to relax a little bit with my family because I know what's coming," coach Jim Zorn said. "I am enthusiastic [about my new job], no question, but I know the seriousness of what I'm about to partake in, and I know my coaches do as well."
So do veteran players like fourth-year quarterback Jason Campbell, who told the rookies "to stay out of trouble, stay in shape and stay in your playbook."
Zorn delivered a similar message to the team before Thursday's practice.
"We've got the car in gear," Zorn said. "Let's not put it in neutral. They [can] take a break after a difficult camp, but then they've got to get right back into it. It's not only physical preparation; it's that mental preparation. Our players are going to work out. That's not the problem. It's what happens [in the evenings]. They really need to be careful.
"They're grown men, [but] some of 'em have more maturity than others. I told 'em if they're in one of those sticky situations, take a breath, make sure they breathe out ... and hopefully in that moment they'll be able to think about the decision they're trying to make. I don't expect anybody to be in that situation, but it could happen."
Zorn was pleased with his first offseason in command despite veteran cornerback Shawn Springs' refusal to report for the past two weeks of OTAs. He said the defense and the running game have been fully installed and the passing game is about 70 percent complete.
Said Campbell: "Last year it was our second year in [former assistant head coach Al Saunders'] offense. There wasn't much of a learning curve. It was more improving on what we were doing. This year we were learning new plays, so we were learning and improving at the same time."
Zorn expects to have everyone on the field when camp starts except cornerback Carlos Rogers, defensive end Erasmus James and rookie safety Kareem Moore, who are all recovering from knee surgery, and tight end Tyler Ecker, who had groin surgery Wednesday.
Rookie quarterback Colt Brennan, safety Vernon Fox, linebacker Rocky McIntosh and receiver Antwaan Randle El should return from knee surgery by July 20. Guard Randy Thomas, who was held out of team drills in minicamp and OTAs after missing most of last year with a torn triceps, will be ready for contact as will tackle Jon Jansen, whose 2007 season ended with a broken leg and dislocated ankle in the opener.
"The first part of training camp is very difficult, so we need to really make sure we get those guys pushing through and get them coming out the back end healthy," Zorn said.
The coach also expects all 10 draft choices to sign by July 20. To stay at the 80-man roster limit, the Redskins will have to cut a player for each pick they sign. It helps that Washington selected its top choice, receiver Devin Thomas, with the 34th overall selection. Negotiations are usually smoother with players taken after the first round.
"It's important to us, but it's really important to them to not lose a day," Zorn said. "Guys that sit out and bicker over dollars have a very difficult time participating that first year in the regular season."
Safety Chris Horton, a seventh-rounder, became the first of Washington's 10 draft picks to sign when he agreed to a three-year deal that includes a $36,000 signing bonus. The Redskins made room for Horton by releasing former Virginia Tech safety Justin Hamilton. Horton, UCLA's top tackler in 2006 and No. 2 in 2007, will compete with Fox and Moore for the fourth safety spot.
- Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and running back Clinton Portis (personal reasons) and receiver Santana Moss (illness) were excused from Thursday's session.
By Elaine Donnelly
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