- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs takes to the field today to oversee his first practice since ending 11 years of retirement in January.

The offseason’s first minicamp — scheduled for closed afternoon practices today, tomorrow and Sunday — will provide Gibbs and his staff their first opportunity to evaluate players outside of simply watching tape of past games.

Thanks to NFL rules that permit a pre-draft minicamp when a team hires a new coach, Washington is holding this session for the third time in four years. Gibbs, though, is optimistic that the club’s constant turnover — and the consequent frustration of Redskins players and fans — finally will end.

“I was talking to one of [the players], and he said, ‘I’m kind of sick and tired of this changing coaches all the time.’” Gibbs recalled with a laugh this week. “I said, ‘I am too. Let’s don’t do that anymore, OK?’”

Groundwork for the practices was laid last night when Gibbs held his first team meeting. Players were introduced to the staff, told the few team rules — which boil down to two, according to the coach: “common sense, and don’t embarrass the Redskins” — and given a rough sketch of the setup and expectations for the next nine — and preferably 10 — months.

“We’re going to start a long process here of working on football,” Gibbs said.

Most players hadn’t met Gibbs as of early this week, and they once again must assimilate into an overhauled roster that includes 11 acquisitions since March2. Thus, this minicamp will be as much about learning names and faces as plays.

“It’s going to be like the first day of school,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “Everybody’s going to be looking around, sizing each other up. It’s a lot of new faces. It takes somebody like me to break that ice and get it going.”

A pair of controversies loom over the proceedings, though neither debate is expected to fully intensify for several months. The first is the battle at quarterback between Pro Bowl passer Mark Brunell and young incumbent Patrick Ramsey. The second is the contract dispute between linebacker LaVar Arrington and the Redskins.

Ramsey, who had surgery in December to remove an ossicle in his right foot, heads an extensive list of players who will be limited or held out of this minicamp. He is scheduled to do some individual throwing drills but won’t participate in any team activities.

Ramsey’s rehabilitation staves off scrutiny of how Gibbs is dividing up snaps for his quarterbacks, a group that also includes Tim Hasselbeck, who competently started five games in place of Ramsey late last season. Brunell remains confident, though, that any debate can be minimized by how he and Ramsey go about their work in coming months.

“Obviously, there will be a lot of talk from [the media’s] end,” Brunell said. “I don’t know if anything will be fabricated. But all I know is, I’ve been in this situation before, where you have another quarterback who’s certainly capable of leading a team. You find a way to make it work and just go play hard. Do what you know and do what you do best.”

Arrington will participate even though it is clear both he and the Redskins are starting to take his contract dispute a bit personally. The Pro Bowl linebacker has accused Washington of removing a $6.5million roster bonus from the extension he signed in December. While awaiting arbitration, he is trying to focus on football.

“I’ve got a job to do,” Arrington said. “And as long as this is my place of business, this is where I’ll be doing it. I want to win. I want to be part of a winning team. And that’s what I plan on being a part of.”

Despite the sideshows, today’s focus undoubtedly will be on Gibbs, whose return to coaching was met with jubilation in Washington. An early glimpse of whether the legendary coach can thrive in the era of free agency and the salary cap comes today.

“I haven’t been in D.C. long, but I think people are more excited about watching him coach than they are about watching us play,” wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. “They want to see him run out the tunnel more than they want to see us come out the tunnel. Really, for me, I’m looking to see what he’s going to bring. That’s all I hear everyone talk about.”

Notes — The Redskins have until today to match the New Orleans Saints’ offer for fullback Bryan Johnson. Washington would get no compensation if Johnson, a restricted free agent, departs. A club official said no decision had been made as of late yesterday. … Approximately six or seven free agents will work out with the Redskins in minicamp. The workouts are partly for numbers, given the club’s many injuries, but a solid performance could bump a player onto the 80-man roster.

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