'Skins lift question from college test

Players are optimistic Spurrier's pass attack will fly them far in NFL

Pro Football

September 08, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins fans, please take out your No. 2 pencils.

It's pop quiz time. There's only one question, but it's one that has consumed fans, critics and observers alike.

Will Washington coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun offense be as successful in the NFL as it was in the college ranks?

Today's 1 p.m., regular-season home opener against the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field in Landover will provide a first glimpse of Spurrier's complex offensive strategy.

Whether he draws converts or detractors is immaterial to the former University of Florida coach. Spurrier knows he will be under the microscope.

"I sort of expect it, and it'll continue," Spurrier said with a Cheshire cat grin that dances upon his face from time to time. "That doesn't bother me. I can't be concerned about that. The only thing we're concerned about is what we can control around here."

The feeling is mutual among the Redskins' players, who are looking to build on last season's 8-8 record - which included a season-ending 8-3 burst - and taste their first playoff experience since 1999.

"I feel like we control our own destiny," said cornerback Champ Bailey. "We can go anywhere we want to go. We just have to focus and do what's right."

Much of that will depend on Spurrier's offensive system, a blueprint that emphasizes attacking opposing defenses by finding the open areas of the field and hitting open receivers in those areas.

Unlike the West Coast set - which requires the quarterback to file through a predetermined order of numbered options with little afterthought of the results - Spurrier's plan seeks to stretch defenses by throwing the long ball first and dropping to the middle or short choices if the deep threats are not available.

The system was a success during the preseason, which was marked by Washington's march to a team-record 164 points in five games.

Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said he has studied film of Spurrier's days with the Gators and is convinced that Spurrier still has a bag of tricks that he didn't open during the preseason.

"Steve Spurrier has a proven track record with that offense," McGinnis said during a conference call Wednesday. "He knows how to dial them up. We've got a hell of a challenge in front of us."

Others aren't persuaded. After the Redskins rallied from a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit to nip the Steelers in a preseason game, Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers openly questioned whether Spurrier's offense will work in the NFL.

That kind of doubt only serves to motivate Spurrier, said Washington wide receiver Jacquez Green.

"I look back when we got beat by Nebraska in the [1996 national] championship game," said Green, a four-year varsity player for Spurrier with the Gators. "All summer long, [critics] were talking about [how defenses can] just blitz the shotgun. He made a couple of adjustments over the summer. We came back and scored 50 points a game and won the [school's first national] championship."

No one is talking about carting away the Vince Lombardi Trophy. After all, the season hasn't even started, and players are still getting acclimated to Spurrier and new defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

But the Redskins may have lucked out by opening their campaign against a Cardinals team that gave up almost 225 passing yards and more than 21 points a game last season.

Still, the Washington players know that the onus is on them to prove their coach right.

"Teams are going to be gunning for us," said quarterback Shane Matthews. "You kind of like that. That's why you play the game. You want people to gun for you. We haven't won anything around here, but our coach has been successful everywhere he has been, and we plan on being successful here."

Redskins today

Arizona at Washington

Time: 1 p.m., chs. 45, 5.

Line: Redskins by 7.

Key stat: Redskins have won three straight from Cardinals.

Worth watching: Shane Matthews debuts as Redskins starter. Can Cardinals' Jake Plummer improve on career-high 18 TD passes?

Outlook: Steve Spurrier draws a soft opponent for his Redskins debut. Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis has one of the game's best defensive minds, but he doesn't have the talent to stop too many teams.

-- Chicago Tribune

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