- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

MOBILE, Ala. — Hundreds of pairs of eyes looked on yesterday as offensive and defensive linemen collided in a series of one-on-one duels. Scouts and coaches formed a tight circle around the battles, a ring just large enough so none of the onlookers got trampled.

Joe Bugel stood as close as anyone, positioned directly across from the offensive linemen. There he could stare down their technique, leverage, footwork and power. It might have been 14 years since Bugel scouted Senior Bowl practices for the Washington Redskins, and two years since he came to Mobile at all, but it was almost as if a spot was reserved for Washington’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

“I haven’t forgot about this place,” Bugel said after practice with his trademark enthusiasm. “The nice thing about the Senior Bowl, they let the coaches on the field. You’re allowed to get close, and you get a great evaluation of the players. I know the spot of grass I want to stand on, where to go, where the drills are. It’s been real good.”

Of all the old hands Joe Gibbs has brought back from his glorious first stint as Redskins coach, none is more fondly remembered than the Head Hog. Overseeing the offensive line for Gibbs’ first nine seasons, one of the most well-known units in NFL history, Bugel helped lead Washington to three Super Bowl trips and two championships from 1981 to 1989.

Now he is charged with a task nearly as high-profile as the Redskins regroup from a 5-11 season. Here, at what amounts to the NFL’s annual convention, conversations with scouts and coaches about the Redskins inevitably lead back to the protection schemes of former coach Steve Spurrier and the beatings taken by quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

“The biggest thing in any program is if you keep your quarterback clean,” Bugel said. “Patrick Ramsey is an excellent, excellent quarterback. The big thing [with such passers], just like the Peyton Mannings, keep them off the ground because they’ll win football games for you. He’s a very, very good football player, and our schemes will help him.”

Ramsey was sacked 30 times in 11 starts, and for a number of weeks no NFL quarterback was taken down more frequently. After a hot start in which he posted 356- and 348-yard performances and Washington went 3-1, his performance and eventually his poise slumped. His season ended with a concussion Nov.23 at Miami, and he since has had surgery to repair a tendon and remove an extra piece of bone in his foot.

Washington’s protection problems went well beyond the offensive line. Ramsey’s inexperience, Spurrier’s aggressive scheme and the lack of blocking ability among Washington’s running backs and tight ends all contributed. But in the public arena, for better or worse, the offensive line absorbed the brunt of blame.

Bugel began his evaluation of the line during the Redskins’ late-October bye week, when owner Dan Snyder flew him to Washington to watch tape and serve as an unpaid consultant. His analysis intensified last week when Gibbs’ staff began watching tape of last season’s team. Standing yesterday in the warm Mobile sun, Bugel already knew some things he must implement.

“You’ve got to keep more people in to block for him,” Bugel said. “Just blocking with five people is very dangerous at this level. You’ve got to pick your spots. We’ll have enough protection schemes and play-action schemes. The thing about him is, he’s a very cold-blooded quarterback, meaning he doesn’t watch the rush. He’s always looking downfield. That kid is going to be a great football player.”

Bugel isn’t scouting the Senior Bowl to fill holes per se; his line for the most part is set. Next season the Redskins will start tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas, and Derrick Dockery appears likely to stay at the left guard spot. And it’s very possible Larry Moore could stay or Lennie Friedman could be re-signed at center.

Still, there’s plenty for Bugel to study here.

“Just like defensive line, on the offensive line you never have enough good football players,” Bugel said. “The biggest thing in the league right now is to make sure you’re strong inside — your center and two guards — because the defensive tackles now are in that 325 to 350 range.”

After leaving Washington, Bugel served two stints as an NFL head coach, for the Arizona Cardinals (1990 to 1993) and Oakland Raiders (1997). He last worked as the San Diego Chargers’ offensive line coach from 1998 to 2001. When Gibbs started rounding up his posse of former assistants a few weeks ago, Bugel was eager to return.

Having worked through most of the 11 seasons Gibbs was out of the NFL, Bugel has a familiarity with current players, the salary cap and free agency that Gibbs must learn quickly. But Bugel downplayed any help he might provide his boss. If Bugel is as well-positioned as his spot on the practice field might indicate, he’s confident his boss will be in short order.

“It’ll take Joe probably five minutes,” Bugel said. “He never forgot football. He’s a brilliant, brilliant person, and what he did was surround himself with the old staff. Don Breaux’s back. Rennie Simmons, Jack Burns, myself. We all know each other. We get things prepared for him. Because once he shuts that door, it’s full speed ahead.”

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