- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

A big part — for some, at this point, perhaps the only part — of the faith and hope that Joe Gibbs can restore the Washington Redskins to glory is the success that he brought them during his first tenure as coach.

But the football landscape has changed significantly since Gibbs left in 1992 — the playbooks (I think the playbook when Gibbs coached was still smaller than “War and Peace”), the players, the media — and much of that seems to be beyond his control. He can’t turn back the clock in those areas.

However, there is one decision Gibbs could have made to recreate at least some of the atmosphere of success that led to four Super Bowl appearances from 1981 through 1992: where to hold training camp.

The key to both the chemistry and comprehension issues that have dogged these Redskins since they stepped on the field this season might have been found on the fields of a small Pennsylvania college known as Dickinson in a small central Pennsylvania town known as Carlisle.

You remember Carlisle, don’t you? It was part of the Redskins tradition for 33 years, from 1963 to 1993 and again in 2001 and 2002. It brings up nostalgic memories, but it was far more than that. It was a place where teams were formed, where lessons were learned, and where championships were won together.

The Redskins seem to be plagued by those two issues: chemistry and comprehension. Whatever they forged last year seems to have been lost, perhaps with the revolving door personnel style that has built (or destroyed) this team or maybe within the 700-page playbook of new assistant head coach-offense Al Saunders. They may find some remnants of the team that went to the second round of the playoffs last year in Houston tomorrow against the Texans, but it will hardly be a strong enough foundation to withstand Jacksonville coming to town the following week.

You saw Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh on Monday night, didn’t you? Mark Brunell will be looking to get rid of the ball before he even gets it from center.

No, what the Redskins needed to do before this season began — a season with another batch of new faces, a new offense that is apparently more complicated than nuclear physics — was to forge a foundation in isolation together, surrounded by the laughter and misery that comes with grown men being thrown together.

It has been the pattern lately for NFL franchises to get away from distant training camps, instead using their own facilities and staying at home, as the Redskins have since 2003 at their Ashburn headquarters. But the pattern, at least for successful teams in today’s NFL, has also been to build from within, with the draft through player development, with players who have come up together and played side by side for more than a season or two.

The Redskins certainly didn’t follow that pattern, which makes the need for a training camp like Carlisle all the more important.

“I think a place like Carlisle is essential, especially with the influx of new players and free agency today,” said former Redskin Rick “Doc” Walker, who went through six training camps there. “You don’t get a chance to bond with guys and get to really know them. You don’t struggle together, like on those school bus rides on Wednesday nights to the high school field for practice.

“There were some great moments with teammates there, and I’m not certain you can duplicate that at your regular practice facility and then go home with all the pressures and subtleties of having your family and friends around,” Walker said. “I don’t recall [the Redskins] winning anything of significance since they left.”

Save for two playoffs appearances, the Redskins haven’t won anything since they left Carlisle. And I doubt there are any stories coming out of Ashburn like the time Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby held the rookie linemen hostage at the Fireside bar and kept them from going to a team meeting.

It is surprising that Gibbs didn’t try to recreate that atmosphere by taking the Redskins back to the place where all the success started. It can’t be because Redskins owner Dan Snyder believes it is still a valuable marketing tool to have training camp at Redskin Park. That’s juice that isn’t worth the squeezing. It can’t be because Snyder wants to save money. He probably would be having training camp on the planet formerly known as Pluto if someone could show him it would produce a winner for his money. Maybe he just doesn’t like the helicopter ride to Carlisle.

But I have to think that the soul this Redskins team is searching for could have been found in July and August, 120 miles away, where the seeds of the great championship teams were planted.

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