- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

Preseason game plans have been, in the words of one player, “real vanilla.” Practices have been closed to the public for the last three weeks. Members of the media are allowed to watch only 15 minutes of stretching and special teams work. The front gate at Redskin Park has a guard on duty from 6a.m. to 10p.m. every day.

Welcome to training camp, Joe Gibbs style.

Preparing for his first regular season since 1992, Gibbs has gone out of his way to keep things under wraps. The Hall of Fame coach has good reason for this: Because he’s been gone for so long, the rest of the NFL has no idea what to expect from him.

“If there is an advantage that we’ll have in the opener [Sept. 12 against Tampa Bay], it’s that there’s going to be some doubt,” Gibbs said yesterday following another closed practice session.

Longtime Gibbs observers recall his secretive nature from his first stint with the Redskins. But even they have been surprised by the level of paranoia the coach has displayed at times since returning.

Case in point: During the open portion of practice earlier this week, Gibbs jogged over to a local TV crew and politely asked if it would erase the footage it had just taped. The Redskins had been wrapping up a pre-practice walk-through of some basic offensive sets, and while the untrained eye would have had no idea what it was watching, Gibbs wasn’t taking any chances.

Paranoid? Perhaps. Potentially rewarding? Gibbs and his staff believe so.

“If Coach is going to have an opportunity to spring something on anybody, this is the only time he’ll have a chance to do that,” assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams said. “And I think he’s capitalizing on it very well.”

The secrecy surrounding team preparations has been in stark contrast to previous years.

Steve Spurrier let fans watch every minute of practice during last year’s training camp. Gibbs held only eight days of open workouts at Redskin Park before shutting everyone out. He also held two closed night practices at an undisclosed local high school and got upset when a television reporter revealed the secret location on the air.

“I think it’s important for a football team to be by itself,” Gibbs said. “There’s not distractions, there’s not people there. Human nature being what it is, if there’s something over there, they’re going to look at it. I like the fact that when you’re kind of locked away by yourself, you have better concentration. Normally, you have better practices. And I think because of that, you get better work.”

Spurrier threw open his playbook during the preseason, calling for long bombs and flea-flickers in games that didn’t count. Gibbs last Saturday called for 54 rushes and 17 passes (mostly of the short variety) against the Miami Dolphins.

“We’ve been real vanilla, man,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “The preseason’s about who can hide the most, and I think we’re one of the teams that’s hiding a lot of what we’ve got.”

Williams’ complex defense, which features a host of blitzes and packages, has been reduced to bare bones so far. The former head coach of the Buffalo Bills guessed that he’s revealed less than 30 percent of his system through the first three weeks of the preseason, and he doesn’t intend to show much more the next two weeks.

In some cases, Redskins players haven’t even seen all of Gibbs’ playbook in action.

“The players are kind of in the gray as much as everybody else as far as how much he actually has,” wide receiver James Thrash said. “But just from watching him in the past, you know he’s got so much stuff in his repertoire.”

Williams understands where Gibbs is coming from. He tried to keep his offensive and defensive schemes under wraps from the rest of the league during his first preseason in Buffalo, and he knows how much advantage that air of secrecy can be.

Especially for someone who hasn’t coached in 12 years.

Gibbs’ strategies won’t remain secret for long, though. In today’s high-tech, instant-information world, NFL coaches and scouts are able to pore over tapes within hours of a game’s completion.

By the time the Redskins are preparing for their Week2 game against the New York Giants, the word on Gibbs will be out and opposing coaches will have time to devise their own schemes to stop him.

Pity the Buccaneers, though. Coach Jon Gruden, one of the NFL’s best game planners, won’t have much to work with as he prepares for his season opener against Gibbs.

“We’re going to pull the cards out then,” Smoot said. “You’ll see the real true Redskins for that game.”

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