- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

Several key players said yesterday the Washington Redskins had a “big-time” discipline problem this just-completed season which was a major factor in the team’s downward spiral toward a 5-11 record.

And until that issue is addressed, players say, the organization will continue to suffer.

“That should be our No.1 goal, more so than worrying about turnovers or penalties,” linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said upon exiting Redskin Park following end-of-year physicals and meetings. “There has got to be discipline. And it’s not just on the football field. Our problem goes way beyond the field. It starts with guys being on time, walking in late, cell phones ringing, all that stuff.”

Several teammates echoed Trotter’s sentiments, which came at the end of a week that saw coach Steve Spurrier deactivate three players for violating teams rules. Tight end Zeron Flemister and defensive tackle Darrell Russell were benched after showing up late for last Thursday’s practice. Linebacker Antonio Pierce also was held out of Saturday night’s 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles for an unspecified violation.

Spurrier acknowledged yesterday that on-field discipline was a concern this season, but insisted the off-field transgressions Trotter and others alluded to were not an overwhelming issue.

“We haven’t had that problem,” Spurrier said. “That’s not true.”

Several Redskins players disagree, and while not accusing the coaching staff of being too soft on discipline, they did ask why it took 16 weeks before action was taken and what that means for the future.

“That’s the main point: It wasn’t taken care of early,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “If you don’t take care of it early, it’s kind of hard to turn things around.”

Said tackle Jon Jansen: “In my opinion, it’s always easier to loosen up than to tighten up. It’ll be a challenge.”

Players also said they need to take responsibility for themselves, not rely on coaches to crack the whip when someone is out of line.

“We’ve got to take the initiative on ourselves,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “Yeah, it always starts from the top, but come on, we’re grown men. This isn’t college, this isn’t high school.”

The issue of discipline was not publicly raised before yesterday, but it was not a staggering revelation to those who watched the team on a daily basis.

Practices this season routinely were low-key and jovial. Linebacker LaVar Arrington chastised a handful of teammates for not taking a mid-October loss in Buffalo serious enough. Three weeks ago at New York, several defensive players were spotted jogging back out of the locker room tunnel after play had resumed in the second half.

“I hate treading on dangerous ground, but there probably does [need to be more discipline],” Arrington said yesterday. “It probably needs to be a little tighter. I don’t know if guys will like it, but who cares? I’m trying to win, and I know there are a lot of guys within this organization trying to win.”

The Redskins’ poor performances on Sundays, Trotter said, will change once they show a commitment to work during the week.

“We play the same way we practice,” he said. “We practice half-speed, and then we get out there and play half-speed. We make mistakes in practice, and then we get out there and make mistakes in the game. And if you don’t make corrections during the week, it’s going to carry over to Sunday.”

Many of these problems were bubbling up over the course of the season, but the situation finally boiled over last week when Spurrier deactivated Flemister, Russell and Pierce.

Russell, who said he was late to Washington’s Christmas Day practice when he “got lost and my battery went dead,” admitted his mistake and actually supported Spurrier for taking action.

“I let the team down,” said Russell, a controversial midseason pickup by owner Dan Snyder after his reinstatement from a yearlong drug suspension. “For him to reprimand me at the end of the season, I wasn’t really mad at him for that. If anything, I think he was taking a step forward. It’s a start.”

Along with Spurrier’s disciplinary action against the three players, there are other signs Washington is committed to changing the way things are run. When players arrived at Redskin Park yesterday, they were greeted at the front door by two typewritten notes.

One read: “Winning starts in the ‘off season.’ No distractions.” The other read: “Success requires self discipline. … Be professional. Remember this season so it won’t happen again.”

The message appears to have sunk in.

“People always talk about the little things, and I think those are big,” safety Matt Bowen said. “Playing your assignment in the fourth quarter. Being on time to meetings. Doing the proper things that I think a team like Philadelphia does. It’s hard to explain in words, but that’s what good teams do.”

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