- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

One day into training camp and it’s already clear what the Washington Redskins’ biggest area of concern is. Both figuratively and literally.

Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, mired in a contract dispute with the Redskins, was held out of yesterday’s morning and afternoon practices at Redskin Park. The sight of the 353-pound “Big Daddy” on the sideline in a T-shirt, shorts and baseball cap loomed large over the on-field proceedings.

Wilkinson, though he is under contract for the season, is not practicing as the team attempts to get him to take a pay cut. He wants to be on the field with the rest of his teammates, but the Redskins don’t want to risk the 10-year veteran getting hurt while the club is still threatening to release him.

“Here it is, time to rock and roll. My teammates are counting on me to be out there to support them, and I’m not able to do that,” said Wilkinson, who according to team vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato will have his fate determined today. “Unfortunately, this business takes a lot of odd turns, and this is what it is.”

Aside from Wilkinson, there were few other notable absences on the first day of camp. The near-perfect attendance gave second-year coach Steve Spurrier plenty of opportunity to begin the process of meshing his 47 returning players with the roster’s 43 newcomers, many of them acquired during the club’s offseason raiding of the free agent market.

Such a dramatic locker room overhaul might require considerable “getting-to-know-you” time during the first week of camp, but the Redskins believe they’ve already established much of that jelling during the plethora of offseason minicamp and coaching sessions.

“We’ve been practicing with the players that we believe are going to play the entire season for us,” Spurrier said. “They were all here during our practices through the summer. We don’t have a whole lot of new guys that we have to teach a new offense to.”

Not that everything looked in midseason form on the first day of camp. The morning session in particular was sluggish, with second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey struggling at times to connect with his new receiving corps.

“I felt a little rusty at first,” said Ramsey, who has known since the end of last season he’d be the unchallenged starter. “I kind of felt it coming towards the end of practice. I don’t think it’s going to be long before we start looking really sharp.”

Indeed, by the afternoon session, the passes were crisper, the hits were harder and the mistakes were fewer.

Ramsey clearly has a better grasp of Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense than he did during his first NFL training camp, and it showed yesterday. He spread the ball among his talented and potentially deep group of receivers, hooking up in particular with key acquisition Laveranues Coles, second-round draft pick Taylor Jacobs and a now-healthy Cliff Russell.

“We’re going to take a lot of snaps together,” Coles said of his new quarterback. “He’s going to get a feel for me, and I’m going to get a feel for him. … I think it’ll just take a practice or two and then we’ll be in the flow of things.”

Defensively, the Redskins looked just as comfortable under new coordinator George Edwards as they did last year under Marvin Lewis. Edwards, who was promoted from linebackers coach when Lewis became the Bengals’ head coach, has kept the same system, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He’s not new, that’s the good thing,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “We’re used to him. Everybody knows what’s going on. It makes a huge difference.”

The day’s biggest defensive play came during the morning 11-on-11 drill, when new free safety Matt Bowen intercepted Ramsey (after receiver Darnerien McCants tipped it). As he was about to be tackled, Bowen flipped the ball to fellow safety David Terrell, who proceeded even farther down the sideline, much to the delight of the crowd of about 500 fans.

Spurrier devoted a significant portion of the day to special teams, an admitted problem area last year. The Redskins worked extensively on their punt protection, as veteran Bryan Barker and challenger Brent Bartholomew booted balls from the back of their end zone.

By the time the afternoon session ended under a steady rain, the Redskins were uniformly pleased with the day’s results.

“It was a great first practice,” Arrington said. “If you compare this first practice to practices in previous years and put them all on a big screen, I think you would really see a noticeable difference.”

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