- Associated Press - Monday, August 9, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. | Mike Shanahan learned a valuable lesson about injuries during his Denver Broncos days, back when he decided the goal line drill would be the perfect time to crack the whip and make the guys tackle.

“I went full speed, I think, three years in a row in goal line,” Shanahan said, “and I lost one guy each year. And I looked at myself and said, ‘What are you trying to do with those 12 plays? What’s the difference?’”

Now the coach of the Washington Redskins, Shanahan is overseeing one of the healthiest training camps in the land. NFL injuries are a dime a dozen in the heat of August — knees, ankles, sprains and strains — but a practice strategy that revolves around one long, up-tempo session early in the morning is paying dividends.

“I love this. I thank God every night, man,” veteran guard Artis Hicks said. “It’s human nature to try to find something to complain about, but it’s very hard when you’ve got a great operation like this. It makes you comfortable and confident when you wake up in the morning because you say ‘Hey, go out here and give it all I’ve got, do the best I can.’ Because we know the coach is going to take care of us — he’s not going to run us into the ground.”

The Redskins begin practice at 8:30 a.m. and go 2½ hours. They typically wear full shoulder pads and shorts. Players are instructed to hit hard — but only above the waist. There has been no tackling, not even during the Fan Appreciation Day, when fans have traditionally treated to a live scrimmage.

And that’s it for the day, as far as being physical on the field. In late afternoon, the players have a one-hour walkthrough, more of a mental exercise than anything else. Players can expend their energy during the morning session without having to worry about having anything left for a rerun in the baking late-day humidity.

“If you have to go that hard in camp, that’s when the injuries occur,” receiver Santana Moss said. “Most of the time when injuries happen is when someone’s lagging or someone’s tired. And when your mind ain’t on it, that’s when it happens.”

Twelve days into camp, the results are promising. The Redskins have had two prominent injuries, and neither happened during a practice. Albert Haynesworth had a sore knee — the same problem he’s had for several years — that kept him from taking the team’s conditioning test, and receiver Malcolm Kelly arrived at camp with a sore hamstring that came from working out with quarterback Donovan McNabb in Arizona the week before.

The one serious camp injury has been a concussion suffered by backup receiver Mike Furrey, who has been out of practice for a week and isn’t expected to return soon. Right tackle Jammal Brown has missed several days with a sore left hip, not surprising given that he missed all of last season with a hip injury. Left tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Howard Green have also missed a practice or two with minor hip ailments.

That’s a short list, especially when compared to the days when a dozen or more players would be nursing some sort of injury by now. It was only two years ago that the Redskins lost two defensive linemen for the entire season on the first day of camp. Good health doesn’t guarantee a division title, but it’s hard to accomplish without it.

Of course, talking about a lack of injuries is like boasting about a no-hitter in the fifth inning: It’s bound to jinx everything. Shanahan literally knocked on the wood of his podium while addressing the issue.

“I think if you practice at game day speed and you don’t go after somebody’s knees or somebody’s ankles, you’ve got a chance to go into the first regular season game as healthy as you possibly could,” Shanahan said.

The coach and players also attributed the team’s health to Shanahan’s emphasis on the offseason conditioning program. With the notable exception of Haynesworth, the Redskins had good attendance during the spring and came to camp in good shape.

“The whole thing was if you guys commit to me for the offseason workouts, when you come in, I don’t have to run you into the ground because you’re going to be in great shape,” Hicks said. “I would say the vast majority bought in. So when we got here to camp, he kept his word.”

Notes: The Redskins released their first depth chart of the season. Some noteworthy observations: Haynesworth is listed as second-team nose tackle, Kelly and Devin Thomas are third-string receivers, Willie Parker is fourth-string at running back — even behind youngster Ryan Torain — and Andre Carter is a starting defensive end ahead of Lorenzo Alexander, who has played with the first unit for most of camp. … Shanahan said he hopes Kelly will return next week, essentially ruling the receiver out for this week’s exhibition opener against Buffalo. The coach said he hopes Brown will practice in the next couple of days.