- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Seven months after they completed the worst season of coach Joe Gibbs’ Hall of Fame career, the Washington Redskins open training camp this morning at Redskin Park minus four starters from last season and an unsigned pair of first-round draft choices.

While the Redskins willingly parted with unhappy receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner — replacing them with the faster but smaller Santana Moss and David Patten — they didn’t want to lose cornerback Fred Smoot or linebacker Antonio Pierce to free agency.

Gibbs also isn’t happy that first-rounders Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell are holding out, that three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington’s 19-month contract dispute remains unresolved and that Arrington and starting defensive tackle Brandon Noble won’t be on the field today because of lingering knee injuries.

But Gibbs is hopeful that Rogers and Campbell will sign imminently, that Rogers (who badly sprained an ankle in June), Noble and Arrington (in that order) will be practicing soon and that Arrington’s grievance will be settled before the season starts.

So the 64-year-old coach was upbeat yesterday with the pain of last year’s 6-10 finish well behind him and the season-opener six weeks away.

“We feel good about our offseason, that we made great decisions,” Gibbs said. “The good thing about team sports is that whether we did smart things will be determined on the field.”

Gibbs’ mood got a boost from the knowledge that standout safety Sean Taylor will be in uniform after skipping the entire offseason program because of his truculence and legal woes that have him facing three years in prison if convicted on a felony assault charge. Moss was the only other Redskin who didn’t show for offseason work and he was part of the program after redoing his contract.

“I’m happy to be back,” a smiling Taylor said during a brief stop at Redskin Park yesterday.

Gibbs said he and Taylor had a good meeting on Saturday. The coach and quarterback Patrick Ramsey said they’re willing to forgive and forget as long as Taylor produces the way he did as a rookie last year when he helped Washington rank third in the NFL on defense.

“Last year a lot of things didn’t go the way we wanted for Sean,” Gibbs said. “He’ll probably tell you he made some bad choices. We didn’t want Sean missing the offseason. But he’s football-smart.”

Added Ramsey, “Sean’s a part of this team. I don’t feel like he owes us something. As long as Sean can be productive, everything will be fine.”

The same goes for Ramsey, who was benched in favor of veteran acquisition Mark Brunell last year and faces a new threat from Campbell, for whom the Redskins gave up three picks to select.

“Patrick had a very good offseason,” Gibbs said. “He looks comfortable. He feels comfortable. Over time, quarterbacks mature. They learn to put more air under the ball and where to go with the ball. I hope we see continued improvement. He’s certainly been given the reins of the team.”

But Ramsey, who was in and out of the lineup as a rookie in 2002 and again last year, knows those reins can be loosened quickly, especially if the offense isn’t better than last year’s — the NFL’s third-worst despite Gibbs’ legendary prowess with X’s and O’s.

“I have an opportunity, but I need to continue to earn it,” said Ramsey, who was solid after replacing Brunell midway through the ninth game in 2004. “The goal is to be productive, play well and play smart and help this team get to where we want to go.”

That will be much easier on defense with Arrington on the field, especially with the vocal Smoot and top tackler Pierce having departed. Gibbs said Arrington’s knee, scoped twice in the last 11 months, has just about healed but that he can’t yet sprint.

And then there’s the state of Arrington’s mind. He blasted the organization for its attitude toward him in April and hasn’t talked publicly since even as his contract dispute continues.

“Everyone on both sides would like for this to be resolved,” Gibbs said. “Everyone has a good understanding of where everybody stands. LaVar and I had a conversation after the meeting [last Wednesday]. We have a good relationship.”

With comparatively less roster turnover and Washington having the same coach and defensive boss for the first time since 1999, there will be less of a need for building relationships than is typical of a Redskins training camp during Dan Snyder’s ownership.

The next five weeks will be a winnowing-out process that could cost such veterans as fullback Rock Cartwright and receiver Darnerien McCants their jobs while an undrafted rookie or two probably will follow in the footsteps of such recent Redskins as Pierce and James Thrash and not only make the team but become key contributors.

Note — The Redskins re-signed 34-year-old tight end Brian Kozlowski, who caught just three passes in 11 games for them last year. He’ll compete for a backup role behind starter Robert Royal.

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