Redskins letting the kids go out and play

Team manages salary cap with younger players such as Portis and Coles

Pro Football

August 26, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - After acquiring the Washington Redskins in 1999, Daniel Snyder developed a reputation as a fan with a bankroll - an owner with a fantasy footballer's infatuation with big names and big numbers.

Jessie Armstead. Mark Carrier. Jeff George. Deion Sanders. Bruce Smith. All had seen better days before arriving in Washington.

According to the front office staff, it's no accident that the team's highest-profile acquisitions have gotten younger in the past few years. Better, too.

"We learned because of the [salary] cap to put big money into young guys who can play out their contracts," said Vinny Cerrato, vice president of football operations. "You don't want dead money."

This year's big-name acquisition, running back Clinton Portis, will turn 23 next week. Last year's top signee, wide receiver Laveranues Coles, is 26.

Both are keys to this year's offense under returning coach Joe Gibbs and, if things go well, are young and talented enough to provide a foundation to build around.

Portis carried the ball seven straight times (for 37 yards) on Washington's first possession in last week's 17-0 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins.

A harbinger of things to come?

"I'd say his tongue is going to be hanging out [in the regular season], let's put it that way," Gibbs said.

Portis may be flashier than the players Gibbs is accustomed to - he speaks his mind and possesses a flotilla of expensive automobiles - but Gibbs said he admires the running back's work ethic and durability.

Center Cory Raymer, who is back with the Redskins after two seasons with the San Diego Chargers, said there is a marked difference in the team's offseason pickups this time around.

"The guys we brought in the last handful of years, even when I was here the first time, they were more `I, I, I' guys," Raymer said. "There were some hell of a football players for their positions, but as far as the team feeling, the team atmosphere, the team first - that they weren't," Raymer said.

"But this year, Coach Gibbs said it right off the bat - he wants to bring in nothing but Redskins-type players. You'd take 53 no-names over two or three All-Pro guys who have been around for 10 years or so," Raymer said.

With Gibbs back after an 11-year hiatus, it is once again in vogue at the training facility here for players and staff to talk about attracting players of "Redskins" character, meaning they are diligent workers.

"We did a good job identifying the kind of Redskin people we wanted," said Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach for the defense.

Among those is Mark Brunell, 33, who is vying for the starting quarterback spot. Topping the list of defensive pickups are safety Sean Taylor, 21, the first-round draft choice from Miami, and linebacker Marcus Washington, 26, a fifth-year player acquired from the Indianapolis Colts.

Cerrato said he knew Washington was good - he had six sacks last year - but that the linebacker has gotten higher marks than expected, making him one of the surprises of training camp.

"Marcus has been a joy to coach," Williams said. "I missed on him coming out of college, and I'm very glad that I get a chance to make up for that mistake." Williams was defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans when Washington came out of Auburn in 2000.

While all clubs aspire to obtain well-rounded players, Redskins coaches insist that Gibbs makes it a priority to attract players who can meld with a team and aren't irresponsible in their personal lives.

They said it is no accident that this year's pickups include wide receiver James Thrash, acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles, who took online courses so he could graduate from Missouri Southern in 2001 - four years after joining the NFL. Or cornerback Shawn Springs, who similarly returned to get his Ohio State degree six years after being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.

Gibbs "wants a guy that loves the game, who likes the work and who is a good person on and off the field," Cerrato said.

Springs, who is from Silver Spring, said Gibbs' presence helped sell him on coming to Washington.

"Everybody said, `You'll love him,' " said Springs, whose father, Ron, was a Dallas Cowboys running back.

NOTES: Linebacker LaVar Arrington is expected to miss his second straight preseason game on Friday night when the Redskins play the St. Louis Rams. He has a sprained left knee. ... Since his arrival, Gibbs has surrendered his reserved parking spot at Redskins Park and given it instead to the team's "Player of the Week."

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