- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

A sly grin crept across Chris Samuels’ face.

Just what, the Washington Redskins offensive tackle had been asked, will coach Joe Gibbs’ offense look like Sunday when it is unveiled in regular-season form?

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Samuels replied.

OK, at least answer this: Will it be much different from the plain-Jane version Gibbs ran during the preseason?

“Wait and see,” Samuels said, sporting that grin. “Wait and see.”

After eight months of anticipation and a five-game preseason, waiting is about to give way to seeing. When the Redskins play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Gibbs’ first regular-season game in nearly 12 years Sunday, he will unveil an updated version of the scheme that dominated the NFL at times in his first tenure.

There will be motions. There will be shifts. There will be power running. The ball will be spread around. And the quarterback will be protected. But Gibbs swears the scheme will not, by any stretch, be a replica of his old one. Given his theory that “football changes roughly 30 percent a year,” the offense required an overhaul this offseason.

“The rage 14 years ago was Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense,” Gibbs said. “It changed the whole style of what you do on offense. The 34 defense changed the style and the makeup of what we did on offense. Now we’ve got pressure defenses changing the whole makeup of the offense. [The NFL] went from run-and-shoot offenses to nobody in the backfield to the power running game.

“Football’s continually evolving. It’s a process. You continually come up with new variations, and it changes the game.”

Gibbs’ offense remains the subject of intense speculation even after a quintet of preseason games. The coach took extra precaution to reveal little of his playbook in exhibition play, figuring that he might gain a slight advantage in these first few weeks.

The Redskins offense, however, didn’t exactly thrive with “vanilla” plays. The unit ranked 29th in the NFL at just 260.4 yards. Quarterback Mark Brunell “won” the starting job with a 74.1 rating and signature performances that would best be described as “efficient.” Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, the anticipated focal point, carried just 20 times for 77 yards.

As the regular season opens, observers still have major questions whether Gibbs’ offense is ready. And frankly Gibbs does, too, as he prepares to face a Bucs defense that ranked No.1 in preseason play.

“I don’t know,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to find out. That [ranking is] not good. Certainly that’s an indicator. You’ve got an offense that hasn’t done well right now, and you’ve got a defense that’s done extremely well.”

Gibbs’ offense was a crucial part of the success of his first tenure. Quarterbacks and running backs came and went, but the varying combinations managed to win three Super Bowls. The 1983 unit set an NFL record (since broken by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings) with 541 points and again averaged more than 30 points a game in 1991.

Although a variety of traits are linked to the scheme, the defining one appears to be its pre-snap shifting, which limits a defense’s read until just before the ball is snapped. But Redskins defensive line coach Greg Blache believes such movement disguises the offense’s true strengths: blocking, toughness, run plays and play-action passes.

“Gibbs’ offense is basic and fundamental,” Blache said. “It’s sound. It’s not just flash and window dressing. There’s meat and potatoes there. … It’s tough like he is, and it’s detailed and it’s organized. I sit there and watch it and say, ‘This is like going up against a Sherman tank.’ It’s going to keep coming.”

Bucs coach Jon Gruden admitted to dusting off a few old tapes of Gibbs’ offense in recent weeks. He praised the Redskins coach for his determination “to create an edge” and the “sting” of his play-action passes. But he considered the look at the past just a glimpse of what might come Sunday, nothing more.

“We got a chance to get a feel for what the greatness of that Redskin attack looked like, not that that’s what it will be on Sunday,” Gruden said. “They might change dramatically from what they did years ago, who knows?”

Just have to wait and see.

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