- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier opens the 2003 training camp today determined to make good on the club’s offseason overhaul.

A 7-9 record in Spurrier’s debut season, he has determined, could be attributed primarily to a deficit of talent and a litany of little mistakes. The coach believes the former problem was fixed in an aggressive offseason by owner Dan Snyder, and that the latter now can be addressed in 25 practices over the next three weeks at Redskin Park.

“[Owner Dan] Snyder said we needed to get better players and he did,” Spurrier said yesterday as players, including signed second-round pick Taylor Jacobs, reported to camp. “Now it’s up to us coaches to show him we can get the job done.”

The Redskins’ acquisitions focused on offense, where second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey is under scrutiny as the unquestioned starter. Whether Ramsey and high-profile newcomers like wide receiver Laveranues Coles and guard Randy Thomas can boost Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun is among the key questions to be answered as camp kicks off today at 9a.m.

Also at issue is whether the defense can duplicate 2002’s No.5 ranking without last year’s coordinator (Marvin Lewis, replaced by George Edwards) and best player (defensive tackle Daryl Gardener). In addition, the Redskins must show if they can develop the necessary chemistry with so many newcomers —16 new veterans and three draft picks.

Chemistry probably is the key issue, several players said recently.

“I think we just have to blend together as a team,” safety Matt Bowen said. “There are so many new players. You can only do so much in minicamp. Training camp is where it really happens. You develop into a team when you have pads on, and when conditions are tough — like the heat, practicing twice a day. That’s when you find out what type of team you’re going to be.”

If it’s up to Spurrier, that type of team will be fundamentally sound. He stressed that theme yesterday, after lamenting in the offseason the little mistakes by the 2002 Redskins.

Last year’s Redskins played defense well enough to win and showed promise on offense in the stretch run. But small errors — penalties, mental miscues and especially turnovers — doomed them to their first losing record since 1998. Only a victory over Dallas in the finale saved Washington from a winless record in the NFC East.

“What I’ve learned is that you lose in the NFL the same way you lose in college, high school and Pop Warner,” Spurrier said. “If you have more turnovers, if you’re at the bottom of the league in turnover ratio [Washington was 29th], your chances aren’t good. If you can’t punt the ball, if you can’t kick field goals … our kicking game wasn’t very solid, and we sort of juggled quarterbacks. Hopefully we’ve stressed some things [like] pass protection. You can’t throw it if you don’t have pass protection.”

Instituting $10 fines for players jumping offsides was one adjustment Spurrier made in offseason practices. Another will be having more referees on hand than at last year’s camp, in order to catch every transgression possible.

Clearly Spurrier, who last year won raves from players happy to be out of Marty Schottenheimer’s 2001 boot camp, is focusing on discipline a bit more this summer.

“We’re going to emphasize doing the little things correctly, like lining up onsides, taking care of the ball, learning how to run with it correctly,” Spurrier said.

Spurrier said he isn’t targeting a certain number of wins, but he does expect to have a winning season and is making the NFC East title a goal. And after going 4-1 and leading the league in scoring last preseason, the coach plans to view the exhibition games in a slightly different light.

“We maybe got misled by preseason, misled a little bit,” Spurrier said. “It seems like the other teams didn’t play some of their starting guys, hardly any of them, and then when the real season started we sort of got overwhelmed a little bit.”

Players generally seem upbeat to be training at Redskin Park instead of Carlisle, Pa. They are happy to be closer to their families even if most of each day is spent sequestered at National Conference Center, where they are housed. Just opening camp was a point of satisfaction for most players, who have watched several other NFL teams start practices over the past week.

“This is what we’ve been working for the whole offseason,” guard Dave Fiore said. “After being through a few minicamps, it’s good to finally get to that point where you’re working towards the season.”

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