In season of change, biggest might be attitude adjustment

Results-oriented owner wants playoff payoff, leaving jobs on the line: REDSKINS OUTLOOK

September 10, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- New Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder sought to establish a no-nonsense tenor throughout the club by purging front-office personnel and issuing a public ultimatum to coach Norv Turner: Make the playoffs or else.

So when Snyder walked onto Redskin Park's practice fields alongside director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato last week, the 34-year-old Bethesda marketing executive received his usual glances from players before being greeted by wide receiver Irving Fryar.

"How are all the bosses doing?" said Fryar, cracking a smile at Snyder. "What's cooking, good-looking?"

Not exactly the reaction that was expected. Or was it?

Maybe it fits perfectly in the Redskins' unending surprise party.

In the off-season, the Redskins changed their owner and general manager. They changed quarterbacks and running backs. They changed linebackers and most of their secondary.

They even changed the name of their facility to Redskins Stadium, erasing former owner Jack Kent Cooke further from the franchise's history.

Still, the most important change can't be found in a news release or on any transaction wire. Just peek inside Redskin Park and check out the staggering change in demeanor that may end the club's six-season postseason drought.

"There's pressure every year for an NFL team to come out and win," right defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "The only reason [the public] is talking about pressure is because of the new owner. Yeah, Norv's job is probably on the line. But everybody's job is on the line. The attitude around here has been great since the off-season."

Stubblefield altered his training habits from last year's disappointing season, starting his off-season workouts at the Redskins' practice facility at 6 a.m. every day.

Michael Westbrook, a fifth-year receiver, went through training camp for the first time without suffering an injury. More importantly, the sometimes disruptive Westbrook logged a quiet preseason and seeks more of a leadership role.

Redskins officials may have nudged some players into a different point of view when they got rid of both starting offensive tackles, trading Shar Pourdanesh to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 13 and cutting Joe Patton 2 1/2 weeks later.

That left the Redskins with 16 new starters on offense and defense. It's quite an unusual time to retool for Turner, who has the worst regular-season record among active coaches at 32-47-1.

"This group will be a lot better in November and December," Turner said earlier this year. "When you're new and things are going good, it's easy. But no one knows how each guy will handle adversity because they haven't been around each other as much as other teams have.

"But a lot of [the changes] are deceiving. A lot of players have been in our organization for two or three years. So it's not as major a change as it sounds."

Nevertheless, the Redskins seem to be gambling on offense.

By releasing Terry Allen in April, the Redskins are without their leading rusher from the previous year for only the second time since 1991. Turner is banking on Stephen Davis and Skip Hicks, who last season combined for 542 yards on 156 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt.

The Redskins then traded with the Minnesota Vikings for quarterback Brad Johnson, who has impressed the coaching staff with his timing and touch on passes as well as his ability to limit mistakes.

The only downside remains his health. Johnson broke his leg in the Vikings' second game last year and broke his thumb in the ninth game. After arthroscopic knee surgery twice this off-season, Johnson will require extra protection from the Redskins' most suspect area, the offensive line, which returns only center Cory Raymer from last season's starting unit.

"The first day of practice, it was just hard calling a play in the huddle," Johnson said. "Coming into a new system, having to forget everything that you've known. Where do you line up in the huddle? Who are the guys I'm playing with? It sounds kind of funny, but it's been a big change for me.

"But we've progressed at a fast pace. Considering how many new guys we have and how well guys have picked it up, I think we're on course to have a tremendous season."

The defense, meanwhile, has raised expectations during the preseason. The first unit allowed just six points in seven quarters.

The defensive front four of Stubblefield, Kenard Lang, Dan Wilkinson and Marco Coleman are all former first-round draft picks. And the cornerbacks, rookie Champ Bailey and 17-year veteran Darrell Green, may form the NFL's most intriguing and best combination.

"Everything around us, it's new, new and new," said Green, who is five years older than the team owner. "But it's all been upgrades. It's all to help us win. So when the public expects us to win, it's all that much sweeter when we do."

Redskins newcomers of note

Offense, '98 stats, Skinny

Larry Centers, 110 rush yds., Adds new dimension to backfield

FB 559 rec. yds,. with Pro Bowl catching ability.

Andy Heck, 14 starts, Surprise starter, his footwork is still

LT in Chicago, good, but body remains banged up.

Jon Jansen, 2nd-rd. pick, Joins Bailey as rookie starters,

RT from Michigan, filling sizable need on offensive line.

Brad Johnson, 747 pass yds., Eighth-year veteran has strong

QB in 4 games, arm and fragile knee.

Defense '98 stats Skinny

Champ Bailey, 1st-rd. pick, Heir to Darrell Green already

CB from Georgia, showing big-play potential.

Marco Coleman, 51 tackles, Brings much-needed speed from

DE in San Diego, corner as team's top pass rusher.

Sam Shade, 78 tackles, Quiet yet physical component

SS in Cincinnati, of improving defensive backfield.

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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