- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The Redskins coaching staff may be doing "a lousy job" of teaching certain aspects of the game, according to Steve Spurrier, but that didn't stop the Ball Coach from giving his players yesterday off. You can draw any conclusions you want from that. Just thought you might want to know that the Redskins, who had a 10-day break after the Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas, decided to take another holiday the week they play the Eagles, the best team in the NFC.

"We thought it was the thing to do," Spurrier explained.

Whatever.

Twenty-one clubs are either in the playoffs or still in the running with three games left in this wild and crazy season. The Snydermen, alas, are not one of them. At 5-8, they've got the same record as Carolina, which went 1-15 a year ago, and have only one more win than Houston, which didn't even exist a year ago. (And the Texans have beaten three teams Washington couldn't the Giants, Cowboys and Jaguars.)

Sorry if I'm laying it on a little thick here, but it's important that the Redskins know for planning purposes just how far down in the pecking order they are. They're no longer a team on the cusp of the playoffs. Indeed, depending on the outcome of their game against the Texans on Dec. 22, they might not be any better than an expansion club.

Now that hurts.

But here's what hurts even more: Far from being capable of winning their division, the Redskins can't even win a division game. Everybody obsesses about the 10 straight losses to Dallas, but they've also dropped four of their last five to the Giants and, unless they pull a huge upset in Philadelphia, will have dropped four of their last five to the Eagles. Translation: This is a team that has a long, long way to go.

And at the risk of piling on, let me just add that Brad Johnson, unwanted and unloved by the Snyder regime, is leading the NFC in passing for Tampa Bay. By a healthy margin, too (94.5 rating points to Brett Favre's 89.6). But then, he was a Florida State Seminole, not a Florida Gator.

As for Spurrier, well, he's still doing and saying things that make you shake your head. After Sunday's loss to the Giants, for instance, he suggested that his offense was drawing all these false-start penalties because "we talk too much at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes you just need to snap it and pick 'em up as they come."

In my 25 years covering the NFL, I can't remember a coach ever complaining that his offensive line was over-communicating. It just comes across as amateurish. (The problem, most likely, is that the two guard positions have been revolving doors all season, and it's been taking the line a little longer to get sorted out before the snap.)

Then there's Spurrier's continuing instant-replay follies. Did you notice the discussion between him and the officials before the Redskins challenged that lateral pass to the Giants' Jeremy Shockey in the fourth quarter? As he described the scene yesterday, "The [official] on our side said it was a lateral pass, and we said, 'No, it wasn't. It was forward.' And the ref, said, 'Yeah, you can challenge that,' so we did."

My question is this: Why did Spurrier need the referee to tell him what was challenge-able and what wasn't? Doesn't he bother to read the rules? I mean, it's right there under "reviewable plays": a "forward or backward pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage" can be challenged. Heck, anybody who's ever seen the "Music City Miracle" knows that.

Again, it just makes a coach look amateurish. (Earlier in the season, the Redskins sideline was apparently unaware that a certain call a ball carrier being ruled down by contract couldn't be challenged. Mind-boggling, when you stop and think about it. How could such a play possibly be reviewable? When the whistle blows, the whistle blows. It can't retroactively be unblown.

But enough Ball Coach bashing. You know what I'd like to see Spurrier do in these last three meaningless games? Just for the fun of it and that's what he's supposed to be about, isn't it? let Champ Bailey play both ways. I'm not talking about putting Bailey in to run a pass route here and there, as other coaches have done. I'm talking about letting him play cornerback and receiver until he's tripping over his tongue. He's been telling us since he was a rookie that he can do it (just like he did it at Georgia), so why not give him a shot?

Besides, it's not the whole season, it's three measly weeks. Deion Sanders and Roy Green did it for a limited time; so did Dickie James with the Redskins in the early '60s. If nothing else, it would take the fans' minds off the cold, lonely winter that lies ahead. And who knows, it might make Champ want to stay in Washington when his contract runs out after next season. There's always that to consider.


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