MOBILE, Ala. — Earnest Byner attended Senior Bowl practices in full Washington Redskins gear yesterday, a clear confirmation that he has been hired as Joe Gibbs’ new running backs coach.
Byner, whose 3,950 yards from 1989 to 1993 rank No.5 on Washington’s career rushing list, declined comment following the afternoon practice, saying he didn’t feel comfortable discussing a move that wasn’t announced officially. Gibbs doesn’t plan to announce the bulk of his staff until it is complete.
Gibbs, who isn’t on hand scouting workouts for Saturday’s Senior Bowl, is believed to be searching for three more position coaches: wide receivers, defensive line and linebackers. In recent days, he also has hired defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker, who held the same job the past two seasons for the New York Giants.
An NFL source said the Redskins have made inquiries about a pair of college coaches for the wide receivers post: Florida assistant head coach/inside receivers coach Dwayne Dixon and LSU receivers coach Stan Hixon.
Dixon worked for Steve Spurrier, who recently resigned as Redskins coach, from 1990 to 2001 at Florida. He hasn’t coached in the NFL but did play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the mid-1980s.
Hixon also has no pro coaching experience, having been hired by LSU’s Nick Saban in 2000 from Georgia Tech. The Tigers won a share of the national title this season, and Saban is probably the college game’s most coveted coach. Hixon also worked at South Carolina and Wake Forest, among other colleges.
It remained unclear whether defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would be able to reunite with Buffalo Bills defensive line coach Tim Krumrie. The Bills have been blocking Krumrie from speaking to Washington, but there was no official word on whether he would remain on Mike Mularkey’s staff.
Meanwhile, speculation is starting to build among league officials regarding veterans the Redskins might pursue. Although the signing and trading period doesn’t begin until early March, the Redskins are expected to make runs at Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse.
Dillon might have to come via trade because he isn’t scheduled to be a free agent. However, the Bengals are expected to release him if no one is willing to make a deal. The Redskins have the draft’s fifth overall pick and subsequent selections in the second, third and fifth rounds.
Vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato dubbed it premature to assume Washington will seek any particular players. He said the Redskins haven’t started discussing potential targets.
“We just got done watching our own players,” Cerrato said, referring to the process of self-scouting to determine needs. “If anybody’s talking about anybody specific, it’s totally rumors.”
Washington is determined to get an impact player with its top pick but might not see the right value at its positions of need: defensive line, running back and tight end. The players who currently appear to line up with the Redskins are all juniors: running backs Thomas Jones (Virginia Tech) and Steven Jackson (Oregon State) and Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
Conventional wisdom says choosing a running back would be wise, because backs generally are quickest to adjust from college to the pros. But Cerrato said such thinking probably won’t factor into the Redskins’ decision, citing the immediate production of first-round defensive tackles Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield while he was with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I don’t know that’s true,” Cerrato said. “I think it’s all individual cases. We’ll take the best player for the Washington Redskins.”
The key to sorting out “individual cases,” Cerrato said, is getting to know the players in settings like the Senior Bowl. After watching a pair of practices, Redskins coaches and scouts were at the Senior Bowl headquarters last night meeting with prospects and trying to gauge their readiness for the NFL.
“You have to know everything about these guys, how they handle themselves on the field, how they handle themselves off the field, their background, how they respond to situations, do they love the game,” Cerrato said.
The Redskins plan to boost familiarity further with lengthy meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine next month and visits by their top targets to Redskin Park in the weeks before the draft.
The Senior Bowl, though, is a crucial scouting tool because the teams are coached by pro staffs. This week Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals staff is coaching the North team and Marty Schottenheimer’s San Diego Chargers staff the South. Drills are based on NFL practices, and they include plenty of one-on-one work to showcase players’ talents and mechanics.
“You get a chance to really evaluate the guys,” Cerrato said.