Redskins banking on many investments

Smith, Sanders headline revamped defense, team going into training camp

Pro Football

July 20, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - For those willing to pay $10 to watch future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith line up and rush during Redskins training camp, which opens for veterans and the public today, come soon.

As in the next week, because after that, Smith, 37, will probably be hanging on the sideline in shorts, saving himself for the regular season at coach Norv Turner's request.

Smart move. They will need the 16-year veteran to do what he does best in rushing the passer throughout the season if the Redskins are to accomplish what has become their lone goal - win the Super Bowl.

"Bruce Smith, we'll give him some work early, over the next three or four days," Turner said. "Then you might see him standing over by me a lot."

Smith has been a star in the league for most of his career but isn't necessarily the biggest name on this revamped defense. Pro Bowl cornerback Deion Sanders will join Smith in helping improve a unit that struggled at various times last season and a team that wants to get to Tampa, Fla., for the Super Bowl in January.

Tampa was the site of Washington's 14-13 playoff loss last year to the Bucs and the place where oddsmakers think the team will celebrate as champions at season's end.

The Redskins are the preseason favorites to win it all - over the champion St. Louis Rams and runner-up Tennessee Titans - thanks to an off-season spending spree by owner Daniel M. Snyder unprecedented in the NFL. Along with Smith and Sanders, the Redskins also signed free agents Adrian Murrell, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, quarterback Jeff George, and former Pro Bowl safety Mark Carrier.

Add the Nos. 2 and 3 picks from April's NFL draft, which netted Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington and Alabama tackle Chris Samuels, and the Redskins have talent and depth at every position.

They also re-signed defensive end Marco Coleman, center Cory Raymer, tackle Andy Heck, fullback Larry Centers, and guard Keith Simms. The only losses were special teams ace Brian Mitchell and punter Matt Turk, who was traded to Miami.

This activity has created an all-or-nothing expectation surrounding the team.

"When you are a good football team, you've got good players, and people are picking you, that is what you want," Turner said. "I like this situation. I like the high expectations. The players like it. The coaches like it."

The players are ready to go. Wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell did not have to report until last night but were at Redskin Park earlier this week along with Sanders and quarterback Brad Johnson.

Westbrook said he realizes people expect the Redskins to win but is not putting any more pressure on himself or teammates than in the past. It is a different feeling surrounding training camp than he's had in five years in the league, and he greets it with mixed emotions.

"I don't want to go in with people expecting you to do this or expecting you to do that, because once you do it, then they say, `Oh, they were supposed to do that,'" Westbrook said.

Those will be the words out of many mouths if the Redskins do go to the Super Bowl. It has been a good off-season so far, and Turner seemed fairly relaxed heading into today's first full-team practice.

The only controversy is the absence of starting running back Stephen Davis, who refused to sign the team's one-year tender worth $3.5 million. Davis wants a long-term contract after making the Pro Bowl last season. If he is not here today, backup Skip Hicks and Murrell will split the duties at running back.

Arrington also was unsigned as of yesterday, though he is expected to sign and be in practice either today or tomorrow and compete with Greg Jones for the starting strong-side linebacker spot.

Once those two arrive, Washington will have its full arsenal on display for fans at Redskin Park, a change from previous years, when the team went to Frostburg, Md., for training camp.

Redskins executives, who decided to become the only NFL team to charge admission to training camp, expect a festive atmosphere of nearly 7,500 fans for today's opening. They will see 18 of 22 starters return along with the influx of new talent that hopes to jell. Some have pointed to the team's having so many stars as a possible problem, but Turner dismisses that notion.

"If you have 18 returning starters and you are a good football team, then you can add Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and Deion Sanders. Those are the type of players that make you better immediately," Turner said. "They certainly aren't going to take away from the guys who were here all the time. They are going to enhance them."

NOTES: The Redksins canceled afternoon practice for the rookies yesterday. ... Tackle Ed Ellis, 6-feet-7, 330-pounds, signed a one-year contract. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1997 draft by the New England Patriots.

Redskins schedule

Date Opponent Time

9-3 Carolina 1

9-10 at Detroit 4:15

9-18 Dallas 9

9-24 at N.Y. Giants 8:20

10-1 Tampa Bay 4:15

10-8 at Philadelphia 1

10-15 Ravens 1

10-22 at Jacksonville 4:15

10-30 Tennessee 9

11-5 at Arizona 4:05

11-12 Open

11-20 at St. Louis 9

11-26 Philadelphia 1

12-3 N.Y. Giants 1

12-10 at Dallas 4:15

12-16 at Pittsburgh 12:30

12-24 Arizona 1

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