- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Washington Redskins players packed up for the offseason and left Redskin Park yesterday, unsure of coach Marty Schottenheimer's future but confident that they made significant progress as a team this year.

Many players continued to express hope that Schottenheimer will be retained after guiding the Redskins (8-8) to eight wins in their last 11 games. They seemed to think that the season's final three-quarters were promising enough to warrant little change among personnel, coaches or the system.

"I think we're really close to where we need to be," Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "We're maybe three, four steps away. I thought we could make a legitimate run at it this year. … Next year, they'll probably be talking about us like they do the St. Louis Rams. I think we're that close to being that good."

Schottenheimer, also the director of football operations, could be fired or have his control of the personnel department reduced in coming days. He held one final team meeting in the morning and then conducted an individual meeting with each player, right down to those on the practice squad.

"We talked about the disappointment of not making the playoffs," Schottenheimer said. "But we also talked about if you can't make it to the playoffs, you might as well have a little fun. And we certainly had fun."

In his first season Schottenheimer focused on youth and fixing the salary-cap problems created by the Redskins' spending spree in 2000. Perceived errors in his role as general manager recently have drawn scrutiny, but when asked about his performance as a GM Schottenheimer replied, "I thought we did pretty well."

The coach also was asked whether he would have focused less on building long-term if he had the season to do over. He replied, "Absolutely not."

The 2001 Redskins will be remembered for their 0-5 start and subsequent rally to respectability. They never got enough production out of their offense, which ranks 28th, but the unit hung together and focused on what it did well. That allowed running back Stephen Davis to lead the NFC and break his own team record with 1,432 rushing yards.

The quarterback position is the Redskins' biggest offseason concern. Tony Banks, 28, mixed big plays with errors in his first year with the club after signing during training camp. He was happy to prove that he could be a team leader a knock against him in past NFL stops but didn't have any idea about his future.

"All I can do is let the chips fall where they may," said Banks, one of 17 Redskins unrestricted free agents.

Washington was outscored 112-16 over its first three games, but things began to turn around with a clear-the-air meeting following the third loss. At that point Schottenheimer acknowledged that he had made some mistakes in communication. He altered the regimen a bit and players agreed to be more accepting of his system.

The defense, which ranked last in the league early on, now ranks an impressive 10th, while the special teams, in stark contrast to 2000, were solid overall and in some areas outstanding. Washington's kickoff coverage, for example, is the NFL's best.

The combination of a run game, good defense, good special teams and the players' perseverance resurrected what could have been a lost season.

"I'm proud of the players on this team, the character they displayed throughout the year, the never-say-die attitude," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "Those are things you can build on."

Smith, however, was one player who never embraced Schottenheimer after a rigorous training camp in which the coach tried to instill discipline. The 38-year-old future Hall of Fame selection again revealed little about his possible retirement. Team sources have said he wants to return but knows his $5.4 million cap figure, the club's second-highest in 2002, might cause Schottenheimer to cut him.

Smith, asked if a coaching change might influence his decision, replied cryptically: "Whatever decisions are made by [owner] Dan Snyder that make this a better football team, that will affect my situation."

Most unrestricted Redskins, meanwhile, appear less likely to re-sign if the coaching staff is fired.

"It definitely changes my perspective," said backup running back Ki-Jana Carter, whose resurgent season might win him a starting job elsewhere. "Now I know what the coaching staff is looking for, what they expect from me, the way they do things. If we get another staff in here, I don't know what to expect. That definitely changes things."

Defensive tackle Kenard Lang likely will be Washington's most heavily pursued free agent. He said his top priority is finding a defensive scheme in which he fits. Lang knows that he fits this staff's system, but he doesn't how long this staff will remain.

"If they stay here, I won't be going nowhere," Lang said.

Notes Injuries to Arrington and Banks Sunday don't appear too serious. Arrington, who aggravated a knee sprain from earlier in the season, expects to be ready for the Pro Bowl. Said Arrington: "It was a scary moment for me. I thought I heard a pop. But I'm going to be fine. I just have to rehab it for awhile."

Banks also sprained a knee. He confirmed that it appears to be a partially torn MCL, which should heal within a month.

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