It's long, long way back to top for Washington

April 26, 1994|By Michael Knisley | Michael Knisley,The Sporting News

WASHINGTON -- A reminder is in order for those who are catching Redskins Fever again: When Dallas did this, the Cowboys went 1-15 before they began to right the program.

Washington, which is as rabid about the 'Skins as "Big D" is about the 'Boys, can expect some of the same. A new coach, two new quarterbacks and a spring-cleaning personnel sweep that leaves the Redskins' locker room tidier than your grandmother's kitchen aren't going to put them in the Super Bowl.

Heath Shuler will help, but he is going to experience a little of the loneliness of the long-distance runner before he arrives at the finish line, NFL stardom. John Friesz will help some, too, if ttTC 27-year-old quarterback who has barely tasted a starting job can get next to his new role as the caretaker of Washington's job until Shuler is ready.

("As long as John feels he's been beaten out fairly and squarely, he can handle that," San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard says about Friesz.)

Henry Ellard at wide receiver? He'll help a little, if his first 12 years in the league didn't take too much of the spring out of his 33-year-old steps. But it isn't likely he'll help Redskins fans forget the "Posse," all of whom are gone now -- Art Monk to free agency, Ricky Sanders to Atlanta and Gary Clark to Phoenix.

Tony Woods at defensive end probably will help the Redskins more than Charles Mann did last year, too. But Mann, who essentially played on one leg in '93, wasn't much help in the first place last season.

Yes, Norv Turner is doing his best Jimmy Johnson in Washington. And in the long run, Turner and general manager Charley Casserly are a good bet to bring the Redskins back from the 4-12 pit into which they fell in '93. But the pendulum is going to be swinging for another few seasons before Turner has a chance at Johnson-esque success.

The Redskins have been the league's most active team in the free-agent market this off-season, signing linebacker Ken Harvey Phoenix), tight end Ethan Horton (Los Angeles Raiders) and centers John Gesek (Dallas) and Trevor Matich (Indianapolis) in addition to Friesz, Ellard and Woods. At the same time, Washington has shed the old-and-in-the-way veterans who don't fit into the team's salary-cap plans: Tim McGee, Mark Rypien, Al Noga, Carl Banks, Brian Mitchell, Earnest Byner, Monk and Sanders.

"The goal is to get as many guys as we can and keep them here as long as we can," Turner says. "Obviously, we're working on that. There are some guys, obviously, with age who won't be here as long as you'd like them to be. But we've got a young quarterback, a young H-back [Frank Wycheck]. We've got two young runners [Reggie Brooks and Ricky Ervins], a young receiver [Desmond Howard]. There are a lot of positions where we are going to be a very young team. You'd like to hope that you develop and those guys are able to be here a long time."

Clearly, Turner is bringing the Dallas plan to Washington. In the Cowboys' new regime under Johnson and owner Jerry Jones in 1989 and the early '90s, Dallas turned its roster upside down. In their first three years alone, Jones and Johnson made 41 trades and signed 29 Plan B free agents. In their fourth and fifth years, they won Super Bowls.

Turner remembers the Super Bowls, of course. He was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator. But he wasn't in Dallas in 1989, in the first year of the house-cleaning process when Johnson, as Turner is now, was a first-year NFL head coach with a rookie quarterback, as Shuler is now. Back then, Dallas went 1-15, and Troy Aikman barely survived.

To hear Aikman tell it, Shuler will have an easier time with his adjustment than he did in 1989 and '90, when he played for then-Dallas offensive coordinator David Shula. The reason, Aikman says, is Turner. In fact, Aikman told Shuler as much when they spoke about the NFL back in February.

"I'd have loved to come in the league and been given the chance to play under Norv," Aikman says. "I think Heath will flourish in that offense and really be more productive than most rookie quarterbacks have been."

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