- The Washington Times - Friday, July 30, 2004

The eyes of Washington shift to the town’s football savior today, when Joe Gibbs convenes the first training camp of his second stint as coach of the Redskins.

Nearly seven months have passed since Gibbs shocked the area by agreeing to return from an 11-year retirement. Perception of the Redskins, 5-11 last season under Steve Spurrier, steadily rose as the team compiled the highest payroll in NFL history and Gibbs lived up to the round-the-clock reputation he left behind.

Now the Redskins are being mentioned as possible playoff contenders, and thousands of fans are eager to get a glimpse of the legend back on the field. Today at Redskin Park, those fans and everyone else with a stake in the team will be on Gibbs’ mind as he runs a pair of practices and tries to contain his emotions.

“I think anybody who’s ever done a new venture, or gone back someplace where you’ve got a lot of pride at stake, probably can imagine the emotions I have,” Gibbs said at press conference yesterday. “You’re nervous about it. … I worry about letting everybody down.”

An intensive and well-attended offseason helped coaches accomplish their goal of opening camp as virtual holdovers — as though they, and not Spurrier’s deposed staff, had coached the Redskins in 2003. Although Gibbs warns that growing pains remain, players largely feel that the adjustment period is over.

“It never really felt like he was a new coach, because he didn’t come in feeling anything out,” tackle Jon Jansen said. “He just put himself out there and said, ‘This is what I am. This is what I do. I know who you guys are. I know what you do. Let’s put this together and become a family.’”

A steady emphasis for Gibbs has been on the present, not his past. Even though he compiled the organization’s best record (140-65, including playoffs) and is the centerpiece of this season, club officials say he declined to be on the 2004 media guide’s cover, which ended up being very business-like, with only the team’s name and logo over a football-leather background.

“The Super Bowl trophies, that’s great, but that’s in the past,” Gibbs said, echoing a theme from his introductory press conference in January. “What all of us here now are focused on is not those Super Bowls — it’s the future. … I’ve been embarrassed a little bit by all the attention and everything. But the good thing about sports, that quickly goes away if you don’t do well. I’m going to get mine pretty quick, I would imagine.”

Apart from Gibbs, camp’s top story will be the quarterback battle between Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey. Some observers believe Brunell’s seven-year, $43million contract all but ensures him the job, but Gibbs repeatedly has said the competition will be open and even. Yesterday he added that he’s “fully expecting it to go to the last week [of camp].”

“What we’re committed to there is, we’ve got a plan,” Gibbs said. “It’s not something I want to say right now, but we know how we’re going to handle everything.”

The attendance for today’s two practices could be quite high. Not only is Gibbs headlining the show, but camp is starting on a Saturday and its public portion is quite abbreviated — just 12 practices over eight days are open to fans and media. After camp closes, it will continue in a private fashion for about two weeks.

Camp is being held at Redskin Park on somewhat of a trial basis. The team moved it from Carlisle, Pa., in 2003, and the setup worked well. Gibbs wants to continue holding camp at home, as a growing number of NFL clubs now do, but yesterday he acknowledged some concern about not getting away.

“We have everything here we normally need,” Gibbs said. “I think it’s a very secure facility. To be truthful, a lot of years we were in Carlisle, I worried. There were people peeking through the fences all over the place. … The disadvantage is that you’re still around here a lot, and there are a lot more distractions. … You’re not away where you can kind of get focused on things.”

“Focus” should be a buzzword all season, as a team largely undone by distractions over the past four years finds out whether a Hall of Fame coach can make all the difference. Redskins players, some of whom already answer that question in the affirmative, are eager to start the season by opening camp.

“It’s everything,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “It’s the tone of the year. You don’t start winning games in late August. You start winning games right now. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Notes — Rookie safety Sean Taylor, who suffered a slight knee sprain in passing camp Wednesday, remains “day-to-day,” according to Gibbs. Approached late in the morning at Redskin Park, Taylor waved off an interview request and limped away. …

The one Redskin certain to miss practice today is cornerback Walt Harris, who had been viewed as the favorite for the No.3 nickel spot. Harris continues to rehabilitate a torn knee ligament he suffered before signing with Washington. Gibbs has no timetable for Harris’ return. …

Two veteran starters will be monitored as full-pads practices open. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles, whose big toe remains nagged by last season’s stress fracture, isn’t expected to be limited. Nose tackle Brandon Noble, who is almost completely healed from last preseason’s blown knee, probably will practice no more than once a day.

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