- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. — Joe Gibbs is relaxed and upbeat, and he likes what he sees in the future for the Washington Redskins.

The Hall of Fame coach last season restored the shine to a once-formidable franchise that had endured too many years of mediocrity, leading the Redskins to their first playoff victory in six years.

Gibbs’ debut season of 2004 was tough — the Redskins finished 6-10 — but the relief of last season’s success showed as Gibbs spoke yesterday at the annual NFL spring meetings.

“The more you get a rhythm going, you’re not quite as worried about everything,” Gibbs said. “We had a miserable first year, and that’s real hard on you. So you go in the second year knowing you’ve got to make something happen. Being able to get 10 wins, that helps a lot. It gives the whole organization confidence.

“If we hadn’t gotten into the playoffs, it would’ve been a real downer. Getting in the playoffs was somewhat of a turning point for us.”

The Redskins have maintained that momentum since the signing period began March 11, adding potential starters in Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver, talented Adam Archuleta at safety and pass-rusher Andre Carter.

The only losses from the 2005 regulars were inconsistent linebacker LaVar Arrington, safety Ryan Clark and blocking tight end Robert Royal.

“There are different ways that people feel like it should be done,” Gibbs said of the Redskins’ constant turnover on the roster. “Any way that you can add a player — I don’t care if it’s a trade, the draft, free agency — I want to be aggressive. Free agency is a place where you make fewer mistakes because you’re not trying to project somebody from a college environment to the pros. You’ve got somebody that has already played up here and been successful.”

Gibbs declared himself satisfied with what his team has done in free agency the past several years.

“We’ve added high-quality players, and we’ve had one miss [linebacker Micheal Barrow]. That free agency class the first year I came in — Cornelius Griffin, Marcus Washington, Shawn Springs … is the heart and soul of our team. The first year, the free agency group was huge. Last year, we dropped down. This year was kind of in the middle. …

“I don’t think we went overboard. We certainly had some guys that we wanted to add to our team and we went after them. We had a game plan there. We were able to get a lot done.”

There will be no change at quarterback — at least in the starting lineup.

Mark Brunell will turn 36 in September, and he struggled after injuring a leg in late December. Gibbs, however, says he is confident his quarterback can still get the job done.

“Mark had his best year,” Gibbs said of Brunell, who rebounded from a dreadful 2004 season to throw 23 touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions in 2005. “He’s a mature guy that can play awfully good football. I’ll always love Mark.

“Mark’s in good shape for his age, [but] his legs are a concern. [We want to] add some things to the offseason program for him from a flexibility standpoint. He can [also] probably take a little less work in the season and give the other guys some reps.”

Those guys are second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, who was listed as inactive all year after being chosen in the first round of the 2005 draft, and veteran Todd Collins, who was signed because he spent the past five years in Kansas City under new Redskins associate head coach Al Saunders.

Gibbs said he plans to give Campbell most of the playing time in preseason and that the youngster could pass Collins to serve as the backup to Brunell.

The only hole in the lineup is the one vacated by Arrington, a Pro Bowl player from 2001 to 2003 who never meshed with Gibbs’ assistant head coach Gregg Williams or linebackers coach Dale Lindsey.

“Somebody’s going to get a real opportunity to play for us,” Gibbs said. “There still may be a solid guy there [in free agency or after the June 1 cuts] that we feel like might come up, but that’s something everybody is concerned about.”

The same goes for safety Sean Taylor, who goes on trial on assault and battery charges April 10.

“You’re always nervous about that,” Gibbs said. “It would be real struggle for us [without him]. I know what Sean says happened and what his group says happened. I think he is concerned about it, and I think he felt like there is not much he can do about it now. He’s kind of put it in other people’s hands.”

Turning to himself, Gibbs said that at 65 and despite his diabetes, he feels great and is planning at least to fulfill the final three years of his contract.

“There are no five-year plans,” said Gibbs, who didn’t rule out staying with the club beyond the January 2009 expiration of his contract. “You go from year to year. I certainly think this is where I am supposed to be. I signed up for a five-year deal, and I plan on living up to it unless there is some kind of tragedy in my family.”

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