- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs yesterday outlined a plan to mesh the seemingly incongruous philosophies of continuity and aggressive change as he opened the second offseason of his second stint with the club.

Gibbs envisions coming months in which the Redskins build off the sizeable foundation he identified in the just-completed 6-10 season yet work hard to acquire new contributors and overhaul failing parts of the schemes.

The process begins in earnest today as coaches convene for several days of meetings to pick apart the organization. By week’s end, Gibbs intends to have a new depth chart, complete with holes to be addressed in free agency and the draft, and some tangible ideas about what to change in the playbook.

“It’s a big offseason, a lot to do,” Gibbs said during an exhaustive 55-minute press conference. “I’m anxious about diving into it. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’m excited about helping our football team.”

Among the issues Gibbs addressed in wide-ranging comments was the status of left tackle Chris Samuels, whose hefty contract has created speculation about his future. Building on complimentary quotes that followed Sunday’s 21-18 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Gibbs made clear that Samuels will be around next season.

“Chris Samuels played his rear off,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to respect that. We think a lot of Chris Samuels. Chris Samuels is going to be a part of this thing. We just need to get [a contract extension] worked out.”

An extension for Samuels, who is scheduled to make $6.5million in salary and bonuses, would permit Washington more salary-cap room to address key needs. The Redskins’ biggest problem area seems to be wide receiver, where starter Rod Gardner finished with just 51 catches for 650 yards and seems likely to be cut or traded.

Gibbs is excited about the Redskins’ cap situation, even though danger seems to loom in 2006 and 2007. Washington currently is scheduled to count $81.2million against this year’s projected $85million cap, but in 2006 the team has $104million committed to just 37 players and in 2006 $74million earmarked for only 19 players.

Complimenting owner Dan Snyder on his handling of the books and calling the club’s cap cushion “substantial,” Gibbs added: “We kind of know where we are. Obviously you project where the cap’s going to be. And then [there are things] we can do to free up money in there. We’ve got a great plan.”

Gibbs also sounds emboldened by Washington’s performance in free agency and the draft in 2004. Though critics around the NFL point to the centerpiece acquisition of quarterback Mark Brunell, who lost the starting job midseason, Gibbs avidly supports Brunell and points to big pickups such as Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington.

This year’s venture into the market won’t be nearly as aggressive, Gibbs said. Last spring the Redskins acquired 11 veterans in less than a week at the outset of free agency en route to an NFL-record payroll in the $110million range. Now the coach is ready for more targeted acquisitions.

“I wouldn’t think it would be anything like that,” Gibbs said. “I do think it will be an opportunity to add some key [pieces], whether it’s a backup position or whatever. But I don’t foresee us having that kind of change.”

Players, stung by wholesale annual changes that began before any of them arrived, weren’t quite ready to believe that there will be enough continuity to build on the late promise of this season.

“That’s one thing I don’t know about now,” said linebacker Antonio Pierce, a pending unrestricted free agent. “With Gibbs, he talks about continuity and keeping guys together. So you don’t see the change, as far as him bringing in 15 or 20 players or more. … [But] I don’t know what to expect this offseason. I’m anxious to see myself.”

Added linebacker LaVar Arrington: “I don’t know. I’m part of the Redskins organization. That means anything can happen during the offseason.”

Pierce remains an important part of Washington’s plans, and he said he has a meeting scheduled with coaches this week to discuss his future. The Redskins have been working to retain Pierce for several months, but he recently switched agents and probably won’t sign for at least a few more weeks.

Holding a more uncertain future is cornerback Fred Smoot, whose contract talks are at an impasse. Although Gibbs said the club wants to keep Smoot, the coach also made clear there’s a maximum price.

“We’ve got a certain number of bucks to spend,” Gibbs said. “My motivation is the core group. … There may come a situation, hopefully not, where we’ve got to look out for the core group. If one person … becomes unreasonable, we’ve got to protect the core group.”

Ultimately, the signing of any players might not make as much difference as what Gibbs does to his offensive schemes. While Gregg Williams ran a defense that finished third in the NFL and played “17 weeks like ‘Bombs over Baghdad,’” as running back Clinton Portis put it, Gibbs struggled to attack modern zone blitzes and finished with just 240 points, 31st in the league.

Sunday’s win, though, showed that Gibbs is willing to open things up. Starting today, as part of his aggressively conservative offseason, he hopes to dismantle and reconstruct the scheme in a mold that can hit more deep plays.

“More than anything, we need to take a long, hard look at everything on offense,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to take it all apart and see if there’s a way to upgrade what we’re doing.”

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