- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

The days were mostly mild, the crowds steadily grew and the chemistry gradually increased. The Washington Redskins found they could stay home for training camp without endless distractions corrupting the traditional immersion in isolation.

"It has been the best camp I have been involved in in terms of physical work, mental attention and very, very few distractions," coach Norv Turner said.

That 7,000 fans filled the sidelines at Redskin Park on the final practice of the past 31 days seemed only fitting. The biggest pre-camp fear by coaches was the crowd's influence on players, but spectators were largely quiet aside from cheering on long completions.

"It's like a game," guard Jon Jansen said. "Once you start playing, you really don't notice the crowd."

However, most players and coaches felt motivated by crowds that were roughly 10 times larger than those attending practices in Frostburg the past five summers. Cornerback Deion Sanders and linebacker LaVar Arrington were the fan favorites, but even rookie receiver Jamie Deese drew applause for a deep reception.

"It wasn't as hard to get the guys as motivated to go," said passing coordinator Terry Robiskie. "That the fans were here every day had the guys fired up to practice."

Said offensive tackle Chris Samuels: "This whole place was rocking. We had to go out and perform."

Players felt more connected to their daily lives by working near home. While staying in a nearby hotel, many saw their families regularly and ran errands during the seven-mile commute.

Still, the routine was football, football, football. The grind of two practices daily, plus nightly meetings, kept players busy until 10

p.m. with only one hour until curfew. The Redskins concentrated more on speed than hitting, compared with past camps, but players still left the field weary.

"I know I'm still worn out, just like I would be in a dorm," quarterback Brad Johnson said.

The unseasonably mild weather also benefited the team. Just two practices were cut short by rain, and several were forced onto the artificial turf field. Comparatively, two camps at Frostburg forced more than 10 practices inside, where little is accomplished.

The Redskins set up two medical tents, including one for fans, to counter heat exhaustion, but only three players required IVs for heat exhaustion. Still, a recent three-day heat wave satisfied Turner, who loves practicing in hot weather.

"My main concern coming into camp, was the heat," trainer Bubba Tyer said. "I didn't want us to run our guys into the ground. Not that they would work them too hard, but going through training camp when the weather is 99 degrees, and the red ozone alert is out and it's so humid after awhile that takes a toll on your body."

As for chemistry, seclusion in the Western Maryland mountains was always considered a time for bonding. However, the players still roomed together in Northern Virginia. First-round draft choices Arrington and Samuels took turns lifting each other's spirits after bad practices. Incoming defensive end Bruce Smith, safety Mark Carrier, quarterback Jeff George and Sanders seemed to quickly fit in. Fans cheered Sanders, previously an archenemy with the Dallas Cowboys.

Certainly it will take weeks to months to discover whether the team's chemistry can withstand tough times. However, it appears to have been a good start.

"It wasn't unknown what individuals could do but what the team could do," Jansen said. "We haven't put all those things together, but we have done a lot of it."

Perhaps the only football downsides were overusing practice fields and the presence of scouts from other teams in the stands. At least one of the grass fields will be unusable for the rest of the season, and another will need serious work to restore. That's why the Redskins saved one field for use during the regular season, plus the artificial turf field.

Washington's first four regular-season opponents Carolina, Detroit, Dallas and the New York Giants sent scouts daily, and several others like St. Louis came occasionally. The Redskins practiced only the basics so scouts couldn't prepare for certain formations.

"Anyone who scouted us too hard has come away with a lot more information than they need," Turner said. "I haven't given them any thought. I don't think we changed what we did. We may lose a couple of players we wanted to keep on the practice squad."

That seems a small price for remaining home.

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