- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

PHOENIX Unlike last year, Washington's Steve Spurrier wasn't the center of attention at the annual NFC coaches breakfast yesterday. That distinction went to Dallas' Bill Parcells.

But despite a disappointing 7-9 debut, neither is Spurrier "just another guy," as he declared. How many other coaches ate their bagels with a fork and knife? How many of Spurrier's 31 colleagues cavalierly dismiss studying their opponents?

Less than a month from his 58th birthday and after a resoundingly successful dozen years at the University of Florida, Spurrier isn't going to change his way just his team. After the departure of four starters and the acquisition of seven new regulars this offseason, more changes might be in store at Redskin Park.

Spurrier said he easily could envision Champ Bailey a Pro Bowl cornerback three years running and perhaps his most talented player not being re-signed next year.

The coach reiterated he believes training camp will be in Ashburn this summer, after two years in Carlisle, Pa., although there has been no official word from the team. Spurrier also had a surprisingly upbeat assessment of expensive, underachieving defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson's future in Washington.

About the only status quo is Spurrier's expectation that the Redskins will make the playoffs for the second time in 11 years despite a formidable schedule.

"We certainly hope to and expect to," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we'll have a team that can live up to those expectations. It's depressing when you lose two or three in a row and you're an offensive coach and your offense is getting pounded every week. We lost for the same reason that all losers lose. We were next to the bottom in turnover margin.

"Our kicking game was very average. We didn't make a lot of big plays. A lot of the guys who had played for me [at Florida] didn't quite work out. Certainly, we needed to become a faster team. We signed a lot of free agents that have speed. Laveranues [Coles] and Trung [Canidate] will put a little more fear in the defense. When Trung gets that draw play and it opens up the way it did some last year, instead of a 6-yard gainer, we'll see if he can't take it to the house. [And] we hope we'll be able to throw it up and down the field."

Spurrier praised second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey for his toughness and development in moving from fourth on the depth chart in August to starter by December. Spurrier believes taking the majority of snaps during the offseason will help produce what he sees as "a big-time future" for the strong-armed 24-year-old.

Of course, as usual with owner Dan Snyder's Redskins, that future had better be now.

"We're hoping we haven't overspent too much," Spurrier said of the NFL's biggest free agency plunge. "A lot of our signing bonuses are a little more than people would [have expected], but their salaries down the road aren't out of line. Certainly, if you try to build your team for the next two or three years, you suffer down the road. [But] we're looking to the immediate future not down the road.

"Mr. Snyder wants to have a good team right away. We think we got some young guys on the way up, not older guys who have done their thing [like the Redskins signed in 2000]. [But] it's no given that we're going to have any kind of championship team. We've got to prove that we can be."

Spurrier, who hasn't proved anything in the NFL either, reiterated that if the Redskins are "not going anywhere" by the end of 2004, he wouldn't expect to fulfill the final two years of his contract. And although he said he was more involved with personnel moves this year, don't look for Spurrier to spend countless hours probing foes' weaknesses.

"I'm a coach who worries about my guys not the other team's guys," Spurrier said. "[Legendary UCLA basketball coach John] Wooden said one time, 'I know if they're playing zone or man-to-man. I know who their top scorer is. We're just going to play the way we play.' That's sort of the attitude I've always had. Let's just worry about getting our team ready to play and being flexible and able to adjust to whatever happens."

Like letting Redskin of the Year Daryl Gardener sign with Denver, cutting two-time NFC rushing champion Stephen Davis and not worrying much about surviving the loss of ace defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. No wonder then that Spurrier while allowing for the possibility of the franchise tag said of Bailey's future, "If somebody offers Champ a big deal [next winter] and we can't match it, we'll shake his hand and say good luck."

Spurrier is happy with Wilkinson, whom he said has lost 25 to 30 pounds and has been working hard on his conditioning. If the Redskins can afford Wilkinson, his inside presence would be a major plus compared to inexperienced alternative Del Cowsette.

"Dan has shown a commitment to being a pretty good player," Spurrier said. "We're going to give him every chance to hang with us. We're planning on him being with us."

On the move back to Ashburn for training camp, Spurrier said that the coaches he talked to said being at home was best. "It eliminates a lot of distractions," he said.

Those distractions are why teams have traditionally gone away for camp. But then he wouldn't be Spurrier if he didn't have his own way of looking at the world.

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