- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2011

It was quiet at Redskins Park on Sunday. (The new collective bargaining agreement apparently allows for one hurricane day a year.) But then, it’s been quiet in Redskinsland since the NFL resumed operations in late July - except, that is, for the usual white noise: the calling of signals, the crash of pads, the periodic sounding of a horn.

For the Redskins, quiet is good. Let’s face it, there’s been far too much tumult the past two seasons, clatter that has only distracted from the matter at hand: winning football games. A coach has been fired after being stripped of his offensive authority - and a bingo-caller brought in to call the plays. A general manager of inexplicably long standing has resigned, creating yet another spectacle with three games left on the schedule. A $100 million defensive tackle has balked at a position switch. A six-time Pro Bowl quarterback has washed out after only a year.

And that’s just the big stuff.

But as the preseason winds down, it’s hard not to notice how devoid of drama it has been. Not once has a player acted up, embarrassing himself or the organization. Not once has Mike Shanahan flashed his infamous temper. Not once has the owner or GM made some ridiculous pronouncement about the team’s prospects. (In fact, has anybody even seen Bruce Allen? I’m not sure I remember what he looks like.)


No, the past five weeks have been strictly business in Ashburn. Men at work.

Perhaps, after a decade of braggadocio, they’re finally learning some humility at Redskins Park. After all, since 2001, six teams have won fewer games than Dan Snyder’s bunch - and none resides in the NFC East. Once upon a time the Redskins won Super Bowls, but now they’re just a club that has finished last in their division five of the past seven seasons. That certainly isn’t anything to be loud and proud about.

Even the quarterback competition has been conducted on a dignified plane, with minimal fanfare. John Beck and Rex Grossman have fought their guts out, as Joe Gibbs might say, but always in an atmosphere of collegiality. Shanahan, meanwhile, has let events take their course while assuming a posture of neutrality. This might just be pose; he may already know who’s going to start the opener against the New York Giants. But his mantra consistently has been: “We like both of them. We feel we can win with either guy.”

So it has gone for the Redskins this preseason. Clinton Portis and his multiple personalities have left the premises. Albert Haynesworth and his moods have moved on to New England. Donovan McNabb has taken his road show (and his “cardiovascular endurance”) to Minnesota. It’s as if the volume has been turned down in Ashburn, almost to mute. All that’s left is a roster full of players trying to prove their worth - trying to prove, many of them, that they belong in the league. There’s a certain healthiness in that type of environment.

As for the free agent signings, they were done almost discretely, without the usual brass band. Free safety O.J. Atogwe came aboard in March, when nobody was in much mood to celebrate because of the looming lockout. And the rapid-fire additions of nose tackle Barry Cofield, defensive end Stephen Bowen, cornerback Josh Wilson and offensive guard Chris Chester just before camp weren’t accompanied by many fireworks, either. (Still, they’re the kind of sensible, less-than-ostentatious pickups the Redskins haven’t made nearly enough of in the Snyder era.)

The trades for running back Tim Hightower and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney also came off without a lot of hoo-hah - unlike, say, the trades for Portis and Santana Moss (or Brandon Lloyd) years earlier. Now that you’ve seen Hightower and Gaffney up close, though, don’t you think they make this club better (maybe even, in Hightower’s case, substantially better)?

For too long the Redskins have done it the other way, with high-decibel, self-congratulatory roster moves and seemingly endless commotion. Now, in their second year under Shanahan, they’re quietly going about the process of building a team - while the players keep a generally low profile and try to get better every day. This is how a responsible NFL franchise behaves. Silence has never sounded so good.