- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

A few weeks back, a Washington Redskins player stood in the parking lot at Redskin Park and considered the myriad additions the team made to open free agency.

Building chemistry might be difficult with so many new faces, he acknowledged. That meant it would be crucial for everyone to attend the offseason workout program, he said, because that's when the real bonding occurs. By training camp, guys have bigger concerns like fighting each other for jobs.

Thus it was a good sign yesterday when the Redskins' workout program opened with what team officials and players considered very solid attendance. One club official estimated more than 50 players participated in the voluntary sessions' opening day, which was divided into two shifts.

New conditioning coach Mark Smith declined to give exact attendance figures, but he termed it a "great turnout." And he agreed that the chemistry not to mention muscles built now are crucial to what's accomplished on the field in September and beyond.

"You've got to be together, have team unity," Smith said. "I tell the guys there are going to be times when we're going through the workouts and you see another teammate who's struggling. You've got to pull him. We're going to work as a team, we're going to play hard as a team, and we're going to win as a team."

Among the attendees were at least seven of the Redskins' 11 new players, including wide receiver Laveranues Coles and guard Randy Thomas. For them, it was a first opportunity to meet the bulk of their new teammates.

"They've been home; I've been home," Thomas said. "This date has been kind of important for me to get here and meet these guys. It's working well."

The collective bargaining agreement stipulates that the workout program is voluntary, though players get paid a small amount and some have larger bonuses tied to participating. The aim is to get players under the eyes of Smith and strength coach John Hastings, who can lessen the chance of injury and, when necessary, provide motivation.

"I think the guys are motivated, but they're not going to be motivated every day," Smith said. "So there are going to be days when I have to get them going. But today was an excellent day. People were very motivated. They were into it. So we just went to work."

Players agreed with Smith's analysis of the mood, and they hope good attitudes and attendance lead to good chemistry during the season.

Chemistry has been erratic on recent Redskins teams, as the organization's frequent turnover of coaches and players often has led to growing pains. The final weeks of the 2002 season saw many players making public pleas for continuity, for building instead of rebuilding.

Are things different this year? The Redskins finally retained the bulk of the coaching staff, but they have been free agency's most active team. By the start of the season, nearly 40 percent of Washington's roster might be new. Yesterday, though, several returning players professed no immediate worry about a possible lack of continuity.

"That question will be answered soon enough," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, one of the most vocal proponents of continuity a few months back. "I think it'll be answered on the field. I don't think anybody can sit here and tell right now. I just think we've got a good bunch of guys. Nobody's coming in here thinking they're too good."

Smith, 38, was hired a little more than a month ago after a year at the University of Kansas and the four prior with Redskins coach Steve Spurrier at Florida. His arrival and Hastings' promotion from assistant strength and conditioning coach filled the vacancy created when Chip Morton left to join Marvin Lewis' new staff in Cincinnati.

Just one morning with Smith led new guard Dave Fiore to term this program "different" from some others in the NFL, and Fiore believes it will have a big impact this fall.

"I like how even with the simplest things, there's attention to detail," Fiore said. "You get that mindset to do all the little things. That's really important, because if you do all the little things, then the big things will come. It's an attitude, a development of the personality of your team. And it's going to pay off in those tight situations in the games."

Notes Cornerback Fred Smoot, who was mentioned in connection with at least one trade in recent weeks, called such talk "motivating" and showed no lingering concern.

"That's life," Smoot said. "You've got to be ready for change. … So long as people want me in the NFL, I'm still happy. I love Washington, D.C., but if [a trade] happens, it happens." …

Longtime trainer Bubba Tyer is staying with the team for one more season. Tyer, promoted last year to an executive position with the club, will serve his 33rd season with the Redskins after mulling other opportunities. … Tight end Leonard Stephens signed his $300,000 tender offer, NFL sources said. …

Former Redskins great Joe Theismann is entering the College Football Hall of Fame. The quarterback went 25-4-3 at Notre Dame before playing 12 years for the Redskins, helping win Super Bowl XVII after the 1982 season.

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