- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Washington Redskins players tried to move past their frustration with the unraveling season and coach Steve Spurrier, holding a players-only meeting yesterday morning at Redskin Park.
The meeting was called by veteran defensive end Bruce Smith to get players to ignore the current controversy and bleak playoff prospects and refocus on the final six games. Smith and cornerback Darrell Green, two future Hall of Fame selections with a combined 38 seasons of NFL experience, did most of the talking.
As he exited the team's headquarters in the evening, Smith called the players' mood "absolutely" positive.
"We just sat down and had a family discussion," Smith said. "That's what we are: We're a team, and we're a family. We're not out of this thing. And every now and then a family needs to re-evaluate its situation and see if it can improve on some things and make this better for all those involved."
The meeting wasn't surprising in the wake of players' concerns about Spurrier this week. In recent days, players had said privately that as much as half of the team was frustrated with coaches and that they were starting to play for each other rather than for the team.
Public criticisms have been limited to Spurrier's play-calling. But privately players have expressed questions about his leadership ability, attention to detail and erratic decision-making. They wonder whether he is picking up the NFL quickly enough after a dominant run at the college level.
And in the past day or two, a number of offensive players have questioned whether the Fun 'n' Gun, his celebrated offensive scheme, is capable of succeeding in the NFL without major adjustments. Currently Spurrier's offense ranks 26th in the NFL, two places better than the maligned scheme of Marty Schottenheimer last season.
Players did not discuss the details of the meeting with coaches, but coaches were aware of what took place. And some players believe Spurrier, based on his interaction with them late in the day, is ready to change some of his methods. One player said to expect a change in the offense in the final six games.
And a comment by Spurrier in his meeting with reporters might have demonstrated an evolving mindset. After passing about 71 percent of the time in losing two straight games, the coach said, "We're going to try to play smart [Sunday against the St. Louis Rams], try to peck away at them a little bit, try to play solid defense, see what happens. That seems to be our best chance, rather than trying to " He left the sentence unfinished and changed the subject.
In the larger picture, yesterday's meeting furthers the similarity between this season and the early part of last year, when Schottenheimer clashed with players, the team started 0-5 and a players-only meeting was held Oct.1.
That meeting came a day after Washington lost at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. At that point, the Redskins had a cumulative 112-16 deficit to their three opponents and the frustration was mounting with regard to Schottenheimer's heavy-handed methods.
Schottenheimer later admitted that he had made some errors in communication and relaxed some rules more than the few he acknowledged, according to players. Washington was competitive in the two losses that followed before winning five in a row en route to an 8-8 finish.
Is the current situation worse than last season's? Some players think so. Last year, they said, Schottenheimer stayed resolute during the tough times and then didn't get overexcited during the subsequent rise. With Spurrier, players never know what to expect.
However, most players are hopeful Spurrier is starting to adapt. And some acknowledged that it doesn't matter how frustrated they are ultimately, they have to play the way they are told. Some went further, saying Spurrier has a guaranteed five-year, $25million contract, and a protracted dispute ultimately could cost a player his job.
All that said, the tone following the meeting, which took place about 9:30a.m., was overwhelmingly one of hope, in conversations both public and private.
"It just put things in perspective, pretty much let everybody know that the season's not over," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "Anything's possible. Guys [spoke about] their own experiences, their past playoff experiences and even last year, finishing the season 8-3. We're not out of it. Anything can happen. Let's go about our business like professionals and have fun doing it."
Said offensive tackle Chris Samuels: "Two of the guys that spoke, everybody pretty much looks up to. When they speak, guys listen. So I think it helped out a whole lot."
Besides Smith and Green, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and several offensive players spoke. Green, who is retiring at season's end, declined to say much about the meeting other than to reiterate something players said was a part of his speech: That he has no intention of conceding his last six games.
"Every focus of everything that happens around here is to win," Green said. "It's a six-game season, a six-game career."
Notes Punter Bryan Barker, who sprained the ankle on his plant foot last weekend, was extremely sore yesterday morning after punting about 40 balls at Wednesday's practice. He had X-rays taken on his foot, which is where the pain seemed most intense, but they were negative. There is optimism that he'll play Sunday, but practice squadder Craig Jarrett kicked in practice and was purposely subjected to a "Bronx cheer" from players to try to toughen him up. Jarrett also would hold for kicker James Tuthill if Barker can't play.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington aggravated his sprained wrist during practice, but Spurrier expects him to be OK.
Tight end Walter Rasby (abdomen) was feeling a bit better and should make a determination on his playing status today. Rasby had another meeting scheduled with doctors last night and was upgraded to questionable.
Guard Brenden Stai (knee) practiced again but will miss a sixth straight game. He could return next week.
The plan at left guard is for Alex Sulfsted to challenge David Loverne, offensive line coach Kim Helton said. Sulfsted, who returned to guard this week after playing tackle all season, could start, but both are expected to play.


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