- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Washington coach Steve Spurrier and Redskins players remained at odds yesterday about his frequent audibles.

A day earlier, the Redskins committed seven false starts in a 27-25 loss at Philadelphia, and afterward Spurrier tersely reacted to internal criticism that his audibling policy plays a key role in the false starts. Yesterday, he said the Redskins don’t audible that frequently and that he doesn’t plan to trim audibles.

“There’s not a lot to trim,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t check too much the other day.”

Meanwhile, several sources close to various Redskins players confirmed their frustration with the audibles hasn’t declined. And players haven’t been alone in their questions; several other members of the organization have said privately that Spurrier needs to stop trying to find the perfect play every down.

The controversy isn’t helping as Washington comes out of another NFC East loss, which dropped Spurrier to 1-7 in division play, and into Sunday’s meeting with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their top-ranked defense.

At issue is Spurrier’s longtime strategy of adjusting the play at the line of scrimmage to attack (or evade) a specific defense. Critics say the tactic is more useful at the college level, where defenses don’t disguise as well, and that Spurrier is confusing players by switching plays so frequently.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why are there are more false starts this season than last, when Spurrier obviously used the same tactic.

“I think we’re audibling more this year, but that doesn’t give us any excuse to jump offsides,” tackle Jon Jansen said.

Spurrier has grown progressively more exasperated by penalties in recent weeks. Washington’s 11 flags at Philadelphia kept the team on an 11-per-game pace, which would break the NFL record of 158 in a season. Referees were brought in two weeks ago to monitor practices, but they haven’t generated results.

Early on, Spurrier divided blame between coaches and players. He then shifted responsibility to players when the penalties didn’t decline. Publicly, players accept blame and even privately they concede they are responsible for most flags, like personal fouls and holding calls. But the false starts remain a point of contention.

Conversations with various members of the team revealed no specific incident Sunday that led to Spurrier’s pointed comments. Instead, several people familiar with the situation said criticism must have sifted back to him through his assistant coaches, and his frustration with the loss and penalties must have boiled over.

“I’m frustrated with all of these guys and they’re probably frustrated with me,” Spurrier said Sunday night. “I guess I called bad plays. Every time we tried to audible when they were blitzing, I guess you’re not supposed to.”

He later added: “If you have a play called and they’re rushing eight guys, you can just get sacked and say at least we didn’t jump offside.”

Spurrier yesterday conceded nothing in the standoff, instead bringing statistics to his news conference to illustrate that only seven of Washington’s 19 false starts came on plays in which a late audible was called.

“We researched our linemen jumping offsides,” Spurrier said. “Obviously 19 jumps, flinches in five games is way too many. I think seven of them were when our quarterback was trying to audible a little bit late. And 12 were just when we were maybe in the shotgun or they just jumped. And when we ask them, they don’t have a reason for it. So we’re going to continue to work on that.

“Occasionally we do have to audible. We are going to occasionally audible. We don’t do it a whole bunch. We’ve got a problem here staying still on the offensive line, and the tight ends included. We’ll keep working on it, hopefully get it fixed someday. But we don’t have it fixed right now.”

Players, in public comments, echoed the party line.

“We have to communicate better,” Jansen said. “We know we’re going to audible. We know we’re going to try to get in better plays. We’ve just got to concentrate a little more.”

Said guard Randy Thomas: “It’s mental. Guys know what they did wrong. I’ve got to play better; we’ve got to play better. We’ll just go back to the drawing board.”

Thomas, the only lineman without any culpability in a false start, might be the bridge in the debate, according to Spurrier.

“He doesn’t have any flinches yet,” Spurrier said. “So maybe he can give them a tip on how to stay onside. We’re going to use him as our advisor to the other guys.”

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