- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Washington Redskins wrapped up a second offseason of practices under coach Steve Spurrier yesterday, showing the requisite confidence all NFL teams have in June and also perhaps a bit of perspective.

The team has come a long way in a year. At this time last spring, after considerably more practices, Spurrier was trying to pick a quarterback among former Florida stars Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel and youngster Sage Rosenfels. Yesterday the coach admitted, “Certainly I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”

“Obviously we were optimistic last year, but looking back, there was sort of some false optimism,” Spurrier said. “We thought some players who had not done a whole lot in the NFL [like Matthews and Wuerffel] would all of a sudden become really top players. It didn’t work out. But now we have more proven players.”

They undoubtedly do, thanks to a roster overhaul that brought in 15 veterans. But whether those perceived upgrades will enable the Redskins to improve on last year’s 7-9 record will depend on factors like whether second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey is ready, the defense can succeed without coordinator Marvin Lewis and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, and, perhaps most importantly, whether the roster can jell considering its turnover.

The Redskins got a variety of good indications during the stretch of 18 offseason practices that ended yesterday, and they will begin answering those questions definitively when training camp opens July28.

“We don’t have it all down, by any means,” Spurrier said. “But we’ve got a lot more practice time to try to get better.”

Ramsey undoubtedly was the most scrutinized player and didn’t disappoint. He and the offense made clear strides after opening minicamp May2 with some erratic play. His timing with a speedy receiving corps and decision-making appeared much improved by this week.

Perhaps most significant, though, has been Ramsey’s demeanor. Among club officials, it has been said repeatedly that if any second-year quarterback could make the quick adjustment to starter, it would be the humble, patient and dedicated Tulane product.

Ramsey’s study time went well beyond that of most other players, as he and newly signed backup Rob Johnson had early and extensive meetings with offensive coaches. Ramsey was confident the unit made progress.

“I see a lot [of progress],” Ramsey said. “Guys are pretty assignment-sure. Obviously, we have things we need to work on. … [But] we’ve provided ourselves with a foundation that we can build on in training camp and really be far along in the preseason.”

The potential issue on defense is different — not whether Washington made strides, but whether it has the right coordinator and personnel to approach last season’s No.5 ranking.

Players are confident George Edwards, the 2002 linebackers coach, was the right pick for coordinator. Besides liking Edwards, they appreciate that he is using mostly the same terminology and only tweaking elements of the scheme to be more player-friendly.

“Last year … everyone was trying to not only jell as a defense but learn what the heck they were doing,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn recalled. “It was pretty tough.”

So was Gardener, who signed in training camp and eventually became the unit’s best player. He moved to the Denver Broncos this offseason, but the Redskins like new defensive tackles Brandon Noble and Jermaine Haley, as well as the potential of young players like Del Cowsette.

“Obviously, Daryl Gardener, we’re going to miss him,” Wynn said. “But we have more depth. Not only that, we’ve got young guys who had the chance to get in games last year. Now we can depend on those guys to fill a role as legitimate backups. We’re going to have a good rotation.”

Noble is among the newcomers who showed promise in offseason practices, but it’s often difficult for free agents to thrive in their first year with a club. And complicating that process in Washington will be the fact that there are so many newcomers.

Training camp will be crucial for this team to develop its identity. However, it believes much of it was built in recent weeks, when attendance (except for Bruce Smith, Dan Wilkinson and, lately, Champ Bailey) was excellent.

“I just feel like people are settled in,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “I don’t feel like there’s disarray. Obviously, having a coach for more than one year plays a huge part in that. … There’s always a trickle-down effect. We all really care about one another, and I think that’s really going to make a difference.”

Note — Wide receiver Justin Skaggs will miss about two months after having knee surgery this week. The Redskins won’t look for another receiver, Spurrier said, but they will be able to sign a replacement player from NFL Europe.

Actually, the club can sign a total of five new NFL Europe players because of injuries (to Skaggs and cornerback Bruce Branch) and playing-time credits (players who play extensively in the developmental league earn credits for their teams; this year Washington got extra slots for Skaggs, running back Robert Gillespie and offensive tackle Akil Smith).

Signings won’t take place until next week after Saturday’s World Bowl.

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