- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Outlined against a blue, gray July sky, the Redskins opened their training camp yesterday. Whistles blew, passes flew — and football began anew.

But this camp felt different from others in recent years. There were no needless histrionics — no Head Coach on the Hot Seat, no Deion, no holdouts, no Dawn of a New Era. Just a ballclub going about its business, trying to steel itself for the season ahead.

There was almost a sense of — dare I say it? — calm. It was eerie given the nature of the owner, “hard charging” Dan Snyder. You wouldn’t expect calm to be a word in his vocabulary. “Calm,” you can imagine Dan saying, “is for wimps.”

But Redskin Park was as tranquil as a Tibetan mountaintop yesterday. Maybe it was because the team was coming off its most successful offseason in the Snyder era, one in which it addressed most if not all of its concerns. Maybe it was because Steve Spurrier is feeling more and more comfortable in a Redskins visor — so much so that he no longer feels the need to surround himself with Florida Gators. Or maybe it’s because Snyder has finally figured out that the Lombardi Packers weren’t built in a day.

Whatever the reason, it’s about darn time!

A year ago, the Redskins had more question marks than the Riddler. The quarterback was a question mark. The receivers were a question mark. The guards were a question mark. The pass rush was a question mark. The return game was a question mark.

This year, the biggest issue is at defensive tackle. Daryl Gardener is gone after a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and running mate Dan Wilkinson may soon be released if he doesn’t renegotiate his contract. The loss of both would leave the defense with a soft underbelly, as Winston Churchill might say. (Of course, some would argue that, given Big Daddy’s girth, the defense already has a soft underbelly.)

The thought of the Redskins without Gardener and Wilkinson must have offensive coordinators around the league doing cartwheels. Especially one Norv Turner, whose Dolphins play host to Washington in Week 12. Think Norv might run Ricky Williams up the gut a few thousand times in that game (as he did LaDainian Tomlinson in the ‘01 opener at San Diego)?

Interestingly, Spurrier went out of his way to praise the defensive line after the morning workout. The pass rush, he said, “was harassing [Patrick Ramsey] a little bit today. Those defensive guys were coming hard, flushing him out of the pocket a number of times. I told [the guys involved in pass protection], ‘You’ve gotta make a stand.’ ”

What was interesting about this wasn’t just that the defense was missing its two starting tackles from last year. (Big Daddy was held out yesterday while his contract situation is being resolved.) What was interesting about it was that the defense was poking holes in an offensive line fortified by pricey free agents Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore.

But, hey, it’s only the first day. Besides, this is Camp Calm, so let’s all try to stay cool — at least until the first preseason game.

One thing that’s instantly noticeable about this Redskins team is all the speed that’s been added on offense. Instead of bruising Stephen Davis at running back, you have catch-me-if-you-can types like Trung Canidate and Chad Morton. Instead of Derrius Thompson and Chris Doering at wideout — possession receivers both — you have blurs like Laveranues Coles and rookie Taylor Jacobs.

“You can certainly feel [the difference],” Ramsey said. “I could feel it from the first day of minicamp.” The reason for his rustiness yesterday, he explained, was that “I haven’t been throwin’ [back home] to a guy with Laveranues’ speed. There aren’t any hangin’ out in Ruston [La.].”

The quarterback is no longer a rookie. The coach is no longer a rookie. This is progress, folks. Ramsey talked about his job becoming less a matter of “thinking” and more one of “reacting and making decisions.” (Translation: I understand what the heck I’m doing now.) As for Ballcoach, the lessons of last year have made him more realistic about his team’s prospects.

“I think we’re better [than last season],” he said, “but we have to go out and prove it. We’ve gotta win games early and show we’re a good team. I’m sure every coach thinks his team is better now than it was last year. Some of ‘em turn out to be right, and some of ‘em turn out to be wrong. Last year I was one of the wrong ones.”

He sounded like a man who wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

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