- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

The Washington Redskins are worried the enemy may be from within.

Washington opens the regular season tomorrow at San Diego, where former Redskins coach Norv Turner is now the offensive coordinator. Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith is convinced the Chargers will target him. So are middle linebacker Kevin Mitchell, safety David Terrell and defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. Even rookie cornerback Fred Smoot believes Turner thinks he's a weak link.

Turner has been plotting his revenge since the NFL schedule was released in April. While Turner couldn't be reached for comment, he has told close associates he's no longer bitter over his release in December. However, Turner would enjoy beating the Redskins to show owner Dan Snyder that it wasn't his fault a team with a payroll of nearly $100 million went from expected Super Bowl contender to 8-8 last season.

The defensive players aren't paranoid. They know Turner will try to benefit from his intimate knowledge of their weaknesses. The questions are: Does Turner know the Redskins know he knows them, and will either side do something unexpected to break the cycle?

"We expect Norv to go out there and prove a point," Mitchell said. "We're going to go out there to prove a point to him. I'm sure he'll have a lot of wrinkles. We just have to adjust."

Said Lang: "I know Norv's sneaky. He'll try to run at Bruce and me or at Smoot. He knows our tendencies and how to exploit it. He may try to manipulate us."

Turner's successor, Marty Schottenheimer, has Redskin Park under permanent lockdown. The media are no longer allowed to watch practices, assistant coaches can't be interviewed without Schottenheimer's permission and longtime trainer Bubba Tyer is barred from issuing injury reports. Schottenheimer doesn't want to give opposing coaches even a glimmer of information, but Turner doesn't need it.

"Norv obviously has knowledge of personnel," Chargers coach Mike Riley said. "You try to get as good a feel for the players you're playing against as you possibly can, and any type of insight you have is important. There's no hiding the fact [Turner] was there. It's one of those themes that's front and center in this game."

Schottenheimer has long been a defensive-minded coach, having played six pro seasons as a linebacker. Schottenheimer's brother Kurt is the Redskins' defensive coordinator. Still, Marty Schottenheimer isn't taking the meeting as a personal challenge.

"He has an understanding of certain things about the players, but you can work to plan to exploit those things," Schottenheimer said. "Norv has been very successful as an offensive coordinator, but it comes down to execution on the field. Come game time, there's some coaching that needs be done, but it generally boils down to the players."

Smoot figures to be the prime recipient of Turner's challenge. The Chargers probably won't test Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, leaving Smoot vulnerable in his pro debut. However, Turner may underestimate the second-rounder's confidence. Muhammad Ali could take bravado lessons from Smoot.

"I know they're coming at me," Smoot said. "Norv just fired from here, playing his ex-team, and I'm the only one out there on the defense he doesn't know so why not come at me?"

The Redskins' defensive plan is simple win the individual matchups.

"The only way to stop all that [Turner mystique] is stop your man in front of you," Lang said. "The main objective is if they don't score, they don't win. I look forward to the challenge."

Then again, maybe it's all just overanalysis. There are few secrets in the NFL. Many free agent players trade teams during the offseason. San Diego quarterback Doug Flutie and Washington offensive line coach Joe Pendry were together last year in Buffalo.

"It's definitely a plus Norv knows the personnel," Flutie said, "but Joe Pendry is over there, and he knows me pretty well, too. It's all a wash."

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