- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa.

Training camps are about a lot of things pruning, fine-tuning, taping rookies to goal posts. As much as anything, though, they're about making first impressions, and that's especially true of a team with a new coach.

Think back to the Redskins' camp a year ago and the miserable first impression Marty Schottenheimer made. Fans expected, at the very least, passion and planning from a Schottenheimer operation. Those, after all, were his trademarks. But what they got were spiritless play in exhibitions and total disarray at the quarterback spot. By the time the real games rolled around, there was no buzz about the club, no sense of excitement about the season. And when the Redskins proceeded to get pulverized in their first few games, well, there was almost a feeling of inevitability about it.

You couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, PR-wise, than Marty did. And he never really overcame those initial perceptions, even after the team won eight of its last 11 to finish at .500. With his grim demeanor and old-school silliness, he all but wrote the book on How Not to Begin a Head Coaching Job.

Contrast this with the first training camp of the Steve Spurrier era. In just two preseason games, Spurrier has changed the entire mood of the franchise from Gloom 'n' Doom to Fun 'n' Gun. When was the last time the Redskins scored 30 or more points in their first two exhibitions? (Answer: 1972.) When was the last time they threw for 798 yards and eight TDs in their first two exhibitions? (Answer: probably never.) Granted, the games don't count, but say this for Stephen Orr Spurrier: The man knows how to make an entrance.

Think about it. Last year at this time, the Redskins were already in Full Spin Control if not Total Denial. Jeff George, the square peg that Schottenheimer was trying to fit into a round hole, had a sore arm. Tony Banks, rejected in Baltimore and Dallas, had been hustled in just in case. The team had scored a grand total of six points in its first two preseason games, and Marty was telling the disbelieving masses, "We're making progress."

Spurrier, on the other hand, has chosen to hit the ground passing. He said the day he was hired that he would play to win in the preseason, that he would "pitch it around" like always, and he's done exactly that. Most offenses do the Dance of the Seven Veils in exhibitions, keeping all the good stuff under wraps, but Steve "didn't do anything [against the 49ers and Panthers] that he hasn't done on the practice field every day," says defensive boss Marvin Lewis. Besides, Lewis adds, "We've got to evaluate our [largely unproven] quarterbacks, and this is the way he wants to do it. Every team handles it differently."

Leave it to Spurrier to turn the preseason into a 7-on-7 passing drill. Whoever prevails in the Danny Wuerffel-Shane Matthews-Sage Rosenfels battle, none of them will be able to complain that he didn't get enough of a chance to show what he could do. Each has thrown at least 27 passes in the first two exhibitions and each will get to start a game.

"We may have shown too many good plays [in the preseason]," says Spurrier, giving the media's leg a firm pull. "But we're saving a few here and there. We've still got some plays that have a chance to work that we haven't used."

Still, for the most part, the offense is running pretty wide open. In fact, Spurrier is using so much of the field that, the other night at Carolina, Kevin Lockett smacked into the goal post while catching a touchdown pass. (Memo to Steve: Might want to revise that route a bit. Wouldn't want to turn one of your receivers into a bobble-head doll.)

The last coach who took the NFL by storm like this was Denny Green with the Vikings in '92. Remember his first preseason? You should, because in one of their games the Vikes ripped the Redskins 30-0. At RFK Stadium. (This was the same Redskins team, by the way, that had won the Super Bowl the year before.)

In its four exhibitions that season, Minnesota outscored the opposition, 140-6. That's right, 140-6. Green didn't care that the games didn't matter; all he cared about was installing his West Coast offense and developing a winning atmosphere. And it worked. The Vikings started fast (7-2) and won their division two things that Spurrier would also love to do.

"I think a lot of people are pretty hyped up about our season and our opener not to mention our game at FedEx this weekend," Jon Jansen says. They are, indeed, Jon, and it's all because of a couple of "inconsequential" games in August. The preseason is funny like that. It's supposed to mean nothing, but sometimes it can mean everything. And Spurrier, it's clear, is banking on the latter.


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