- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Without the usual sideshows, the first day of Redskins training camp was about as exciting as the last, rain-delayed day of the Booz Allen Classic.

Dan Snyder keeps such a low profile these days that it’s almost subterranean (except when he gets the bright idea to charge $25 to park at a preseason scrimmage). Sean Taylor’s behavior has been so exemplary of late that you’d think he’s been going to Obedience School. LaVar Arrington, meanwhile, has taken his poor-ol’-misunderstood-me act up I-95 to Giants Stadium (where it could prove a welcome distraction from Mike Strahan’s divorce trial).

In other words, there was nothing but football in equatorial Ashburn. Which is the way Joe Gibbs prefers it, the way it always used to be during the glory years of the ‘80s and ‘90s. About the only sound you heard in camp back then — except when Dexter Manley was yammering about something — was heavy breathing. (The good kind of heavy breathing, not the kind that reverberates through the halls of ESPN.)

Yesterday was so understated, so much like old times, that the Redskins didn’t even have a first-round pick to show off — only second-rounder Rocky McIntosh. This happened often during Gibbs’ first term. Eight times in 12 years, including seven in a row, the team traded its No. 1. But in the first two years of “Coach Joe: the Sequel,” the club had three first-rounders, two of them top-10 selections and the other the presumed quarterback of the future.

This can create a certain amount of hubbub, and Gibbs has never been a big Hubbub Guy. He’d rather have the focus be where it is this summer — on the veterans. They’re the ones, after all, who have helped the franchise turn it around after the wretchedness of 7-9, 5-11 and 6-10.

“No holdouts, no distractions, no egos” was how Renaldo Wynn described the scene. “Ninety-eight percent [attendance] at offseason workouts. Everybody on the same page and with the same goal.”

And what goal might that be? I’ll let Phillip Daniels answer this one:

“Home-field advantage in the playoffs — and 95,000 people screaming for us. That’s what we’re shooting for this season.”

It’s not that the Redskins’ camp is devoid of questions. It’s just that the questions aren’t quite as numerous — or as daunting — in the aftermath of a 10-6 season. A quick rundown of the thoughts that pop into one’s head as the players pop pads for the first time:

• Can Tony Stewart move up from 10th in the Nextel Cup standings and put himself in position to win the Chase again?

• If he can’t, will Joe Gibbs Racing make overtures to Ricky Bobby?

• The addition of Al Saunders and Jerry Gray to an already formidable coaching staff makes you wonder: When was the last time this much brainpower was assembled in one place? My guess: Los Alamos, N.M., during World War II, when the United States was trying to build an atomic bomb.

• Will the oppressive August heat force Saunders, nearly 60, to modify his high-energy style? He was running all over the field yesterday, patting players on the helmet for going above and beyond the call of duty.

“I hope he doesn’t hurt himself,” Brandon Lloyd said. “The thing about Coach Saunders is his positive reinforcement equals his positive criticism. I think that’s what makes him an elite, special coach. When you make a play and your coach is running down the field at you, that’s a great feeling.”

• Saunders doesn’t sound like he plans to tone it down any.

“When somebody does something well,” he said, “I think you should let ‘em know — in a very animated way.”

Besides, he added, a coach running 40 yards to issue praise — in near-100-degree temperatures — shows players that “we work as hard as they do.”

• Having recovered from breaking both thumbs last year, will Jon Jansen enjoy an injury-free season — or will he break both big toes this year?

• When newcomer Adam Archuleta sat down with Gregg Williams in the offseason to get caught up on the Washington defense, were the sessions referred to as “A.A. meetings?”

And finally …

• Mike Sellers scored seven touchdowns on just 12 catches last season. Why wasn’t more made of this? Has anybody in NFL history ever scored seven TDs on a mere 12 receptions?

(I’ll get back to you on that later. In the meantime, if you’re heading out to Redskins Park this week to watch the Al Saunders Olympics, I’d strongly suggest finding some shade.)

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