Gibbs looks for sign 'Skins are pointed in positive direction

Coach wants progress tonight in preseason game

August 21, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Joe Gibbs was still fairly new to head coaching, and his Washington Redskins looked downright anemic, especially on offense. They totaled 20 points in their first two preseason games, ending the exhibition season 0-4.

Then the 1982 regular season began and Washington reeled off eight victories in nine games in the strike-shortened season and went on to win the Super Bowl in Gibbs' second year.

Sometimes, it's useful to have a long memory. With Gibbs back as coach after an 11-year hiatus, the Redskins' first-team offense has looked sluggish, even occasionally confused, in its first two preseason contests.

As the team prepares to take on the Dolphins in Miami tonight, Gibbs and his staff know it's premature to worry.

"The preseason doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, especially to Gibbs," said Joe Bugel, who is back as a Gibbs assistant coach.

"He's not going to expose a lot of stuff. You need a patient owner and you need a patient fan base because when the regular season starts, you'd better not go 0-4. Our philosophy is to just make the team tough, resilient and to get improvement each week."

That's what Gibbs said he was looking for tonight - a sign that the team is at least headed in the right direction.

"What we are looking for is for them to step up," Gibbs said. "I felt like last week [in an overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers], we backed up and turned the ball over and things like that, which is going in the wrong direction. We want to go forward and get better and tighten things up."

Redskins quarterbacks were intercepted four times against Carolina in the 23-20 loss. Washington was penalized 11 times.

Preseason is a time to master fundamentals - like avoiding turnovers, said center Cory Raymer, in his 10th NFL season.

"It's a time where there are a handful of run plays and a handful of pass plays, and that's it," Raymer said.

Fans not old enough to remember 1982 might recall a recent example of a team whose preseason fortunes ran counter to what was to unfold when the games counted.

Former Washington coach Steve Spurrier watched his team rout the San Francisco 49ers, 38-7, in the 2002 preseason opener. The Redskins went 4-1 in the preseason and scored more than 30 points four times in a row. Then, they finished 7-9 in the regular season.

"You don't know how the other team is approaching the preseason when you play them," said tight ends coach Rennie Simmons. "To get all fired up when you go 5-0 or 4-0 or whatever doesn't work. We've run the gamut on that. We've been real bad during the preseason and had a great [regular] season."

Preseason, said Raymer, is best used to develop good habits.

"Winning is contagious. If you get used to losing in the third or fourth quarters, that stuff carries over," he said.

It's also a time for young players to test their skills in a game.

Among the young Redskins looking for playing time tonight is Jafar Williams, an undrafted wide receiver out of the University of Maryland.

He has received little game action, although he had a 35-yard, fourth-quarter reception against the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener that set up the game-winning field goal.

"I think that [catch] helped me big-time because it showed my capabilities," Williams said. "One of the things I have to do is get a lot of special teams work this game. Talking to the special teams coach, he said he was going to try to get me in there [on punt teams]. If I can make a play, that might be a big thing."

Redskins tonight

Preseason matchup: Washington Redskins (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-0)

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 9/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Dolphins by 1 1/2

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