- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Over and over, the ball hit their hands. And then it hit the ground.Washington Redskins receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. cringed in the hazy May morning, frustrated by his rusty wide receivers dropping four straight passes.”Dang it, guys!” he yelled. “Catch the ball!”Moments later, newly signed Laveranues Coles ran a perfect out pattern and grasped the spiral. Darnerien McCants, looking chiseled from recent weeks in the weight room, followed with a clean cut to the outside, a catch and a powerful turn upfield.And he, like the team, was off.The new-look Redskins rolled into on-field preparations for the 2003 season yesterday, a quick tempo and a high energy defining the much-anticipated start of a three-day minicamp at Redskin Park.”Good effort,” coach Steve Spurrier said at day’s end. “Guys were excited. The players accepted coaching very well. We made a little progress. For the first day, it was pretty good stuff.”Coles was among the most impressive players as Redskins officials and media scrutinized how 13 veteran newcomers, three draftees and 12 undrafted rookies meshed with holdovers from last year’s 7-9 team.Precise routes and confidence marked Coles’ solid start. Running back/return man Chad Morton, another newcomer, showed impressive moves and speed coming out of the backfield. And new safety Matt Bowen appeared quick and instinctive.”I’m not surprised by any of the things these [new] guys have done,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “If anything, I’m even more excited about what we have after going through a full day of watching those guys compete.”The returnees kept some of the spotlight. Cornerback Champ Bailey batted down more than his share of passes. Safety Andre Lott forced a fumble as he cracked running back Ladell Betts. And linebacker LaVar Arrington let everyone know that, despite getting little attention, the defense intends to repeat its No. 5 ranking.”We’re still out here,” Arrington yelled as the unit lined up in a run drill. “It’s still about the ‘D’ out here. We still carry the load out here.”The energy despite so many new faces impressed Arrington.”It’s real competitive,” he said. “I can tell already what it’s going to be like. This is the first day. Guys haven’t even really got their legs under them. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when guys get in shape.”Quarterback Patrick Ramsey had mixed results in his first practices as the unquestioned starter. Some throws were on target, while others sailed high or, following miscommunication, were far from the receiver. He later conceded some trouble with timing.”A little rusty,” he said of his play. “I’ve got some improving to do, but it did feel great to get back out there.”Boosting the talent around Ramsey was the club’s offseason focus. The Redskins acquired two starting guards and a cast of speedy players at the offensive skill positions. The interior blocking was tough to gauge in non-contact drills, but the speed was clearly evident.Morton’s burst really stood out. The diminutive return man was signed to run back kickoffs and punts and maybe work a bit on offense, but he flashed a variety of talents at tailback.”He’s a natural draw runner,” Spurrier said. “I could tell that today. He pops it, and hits the hole quick. And when he gets in the secondary, he’s got the wheels to make guys miss.”The rookies made their share of plays, too. Wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, the club’s second-round pick, in the morning had the “8” removed from the No. 86 on his back, leaving him with the No. 6 he wore at Florida. Then, in one-on-one drills, he juked his defender and caught a nice ball from seventh-round pick Gibran Hamdan.”Taylor, I can tell you’ve been running that route for five years,” cornerback Fred Smoot yelled.Not everyone had a good day. Cornerback William Haith, among nine unsigned players auditioning, dragged down a receiver and got a lecture from defensive backs coach George Catavolos. Haith stayed on the field and defended the next play, a deep pattern over the middle. Not looking, he ran into Catavolos and flattened him.Just seven weeks removed from hip replacement surgery, Catavolos was down for a few moments. About a dozen club officials, including owner Dan Snyder, ran over to check on him before he was able to get up and gingerly walk around.And then it was on to more instruction. Coaches, as they did last season, opened with a deep playbook and now will focus on reinforcing it.The players generally seemed up for the task — particularly Coles, who after his impressive morning session was seen in the afternoon fighting off press coverage from Smoot and ripping a “50-50” pass out of the air.”I’m just trying to pick things up as I go,” Coles said. “They threw a lot at us today. All I can do is go in and try to learn my assignments and keep working hard.”

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