- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

CARLISLE, Pa. Training camp's ugliest fights took place this week. Every play began with an offsides penalty, then began again. And veteran free agents supposed saviors despite being unemployed for two-thirds of August continued to stream in.
Camp Marty ending on a high note?
Whose high note? Marilyn Manson's?
The perception exiting the Washington Redskins' first camp under coach Marty Schottenheimer is that the team isn't practicing particularly hard, isn't playing particularly well and isn't any more settled than when it arrived July 29.
And to an extent, all that's true.
But confidence remains, despite two preseason losses by a combined margin of 47-6. Private conversations reveal disappointment and frustration at the subpar level of play but also a continued belief that preseason games are meaningless.
And the team can't help but exit Dickinson College, passing students on their way into town, with the sense that it accomplished something.
Gone are the 3? weeks away from families. The stretch of two-a-days with the heat index well above 100 degrees. The dorm rooms. The bed checks. The G-Man. (Sorry, that last one was for the media. No more Buffalo wings …)
More importantly, well under way is the process of learning one another and discovering an identity as a whole. Some friendships formed quickly and tightly. Other guys decided they didn't particularly like some teammates.
In other words, a fairly routine dynamic evolved. This team isn't in love with itself, isn't pretending to be 82 best friends. But there also isn't an undercurrent of nastiness, a feeling that "I'm just going to do my job and go home." Or, "I'm just going to go home," the way last season wrapped up.
Unresolved battles are a concern. It seems like there are more contested jobs now than when camp started, but more accurately some battles are only now reaching the public eye. The battles must be resolved, but the process of doing so isn't expected to be divisive.
Think Cory Raymer's going to pout if Mark Fischer beats him for the starting center job? Cory will drink a beer or 15 and come back the next day ready to work.
Think Donnell Bennett's angry that Bryan Johnson is challenging at fullback? Bennett carried 27 times for 24 yards last season. He can handle being a role player.
Other battles are similar. Kevin Mitchell and Robert Jones are fast friends as they compete at middle linebacker. Guards Derrick Fletcher and Mookie Moore are too inexperienced to complain if they're beaten out by newcomer Dave Szott, an 11-year veteran.
And the contest with the potential to distract is basically settled cornerback Darrell Green should start ahead of Donovan Greer, with rookie Fred Smoot sparkling enough to earn whatever time he gets. He'll eventually be a starter, and he'll deserve it.
The key issue is at quarterback. Jeff George has participated in just five camp practices because of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. His injury could linger into the season, and even if it doesn't he hasn't proved he's a leader.
Yes, he can make plays. But no, he hasn't demonstrated the presence that makes teams rally around their quarterbacks, that turns teammates into 82 or 53 best friends.
Tony Banks is similar. Players endure his aloof manner rather than embrace him. Like George, he has talent. Like George, he has a lot to prove in terms of intangibles.
Uncertainty at quarterback confirms Washington's preseason losses as meaningless. But it also makes the last exhibition Aug. 30 at New England significant.
The Redskins must show offensive cohesiveness that night. It's going to be George's first real shot guiding the offense assuming he is limited at best tomorrow night against the Cleveland Browns and Banks' first opportunity with more than a skeleton playbook.
As for camp, it will end up being what the team makes of it. If upcoming performances are good, camp will have walked the fine line between hard work and deserved reward. If the Redskins stink, they were pushed too hard early and allowed to be sloppy late.
In any case, it's over. And that, in itself, is worth a high note.
Or one last Buffalo wing.


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