Redskins hope `Dirtbags' will grow up to be `Hogs'

Bugel counts on new unit taking its cue from old

September 03, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - In 1982, Joe Bugel, a Washington Redskins offensive coach, wanted to distinguish his beefy linemen from the rest of the team, make them feel significant.

He could have bought them ties or taken them to dinner. But this was the NFL, so he gave them T-shirts depicting a nasty-looking razorback and christened his men "The Hogs." The line loved it.

Twenty-two years later, Bugel and head coach Joe Gibbs have returned to the Redskins, bent on creating a new line in the image of the old one.

Bugel calls the unit the "Dirtbags." They are the Hogs' spiritual descendants.

Said center Cory Raymer: "There's not a single one of us that's skinny or smelling pleasant. We're pretty much the fatness, the slowness and the ugliness of our generation."

The Dirtbags, battling injuries, get their final preseason test tonight when the Redskins host the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field.

Among Bugel's training camp techniques has been to show the Dirtbags seemingly endless game footage of Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Mark May and the other Hogs. He wants the Dirtbags to study the former players' pride, aggressiveness and techniques.

Bugel often tells the Dirtbags that the Hogs are their "big brothers."

"We carry that banner of the guys who played before us," said tackle Ray Brown who, at 41, is old enough to have played in the waning days of the Hogs in the late '80s and early '90s.

"I remember when I was a young Hog," the 318-pound Brown said with a smile. "Now, I'm a Dirtbag."

Bugel's success at replicating the Hogs' dominance will be critical to Washington's fortunes this season.

In 1991, the Hogs' best year, the line allowed just nine sacks and helped quarterback Mark Rypien to throw 28 touchdown passes and running back Earnest Byner to rush for 1,048 yards. Last year, in contrast, the Redskins surrendered 42 sacks and the line frequently disrupted the offense with false starts. The leading rusher, Trung Canidate, had 600 yards.

But Bugel knows that Hog-like numbers won't be easily achieved. One of the Hogs' advantages was that their average weight - between 270 and 280 pounds - was considered bulky by '80s standards.

Today, offensive linemen for the Redskins and other NFL teams are almost all over 300 pounds. Many are better conditioned than their predecessors. Some do pilates or yoga for strength and flexibility - something the old Hogs never did.

But some things haven't changed. Bugel remains one of the game's top motivators - equal parts taskmaster and cheerleader. Just like 20 years ago, he says linemen need to feel appreciated in a game that revels in quarterbacks' accomplishments but barely acknowledges guards, tackles and centers unless they make a critical mistake.

A former Western Kentucky guard with a master's degree in counseling, Bugel is tough - "I'm all over them like a cheap suit," he said - but also frequently extols his players.

Among his favorites is Brown, who recently signed with the Redskins as a free agent after spending the previous 18 seasons with five NFL teams. He was a Redskin from 1989 through 1995.

To Bugel, Brown -- who started alongside Bostic and other Hogs - is a critical link to the team's best days.

"We always loved him," Bugel says. "So when he called up and said, `Maybe I've got another year or two,' we said, `C'mon back home.'"

Brown jokes that playing so many years has given Bugel plenty of ammunition. During a recent practice, Bugel said he noticed that Brown wasn't keeping his shoulders square in pass protection. So the old coach pulled out game film of Brown from 15 years ago to prove to the tackle he could do it right.

"He came down to the locker room and told me specifically, `I saw you do this in '89. You can do it. Don't cheat me, horse,'"

Bugel's biggest challenge so far is injuries. Starting tackle Jon Jansen is out for the season with a torn right Achilles' tendon suffered in the opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos.

Raymer, who suffered a similar injury in 2002, has consoled Jansen, telling him the tendon will mend over time.

"It's one of those things that no matter how hard you work out and how great you're in shape, it still happens," Raymer said. "You look like a complete moron falling down on your face and you can't get up."

Bugel said Jansen's replacement, Kenyatta Jones, has a chance to be "a hero" if he can ably protect the blind side of left-handed starting quarterback Mark Brunell.

Left tackle Chris Samuels and guard Randy Thomas also have nagging injuries that will keep them out of tonight's game, but the problems aren't expected to be long-term ones. Both hope to play in the season-opener Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bugel's success has always come in part because his players consider him one of the gang. He used to be known as "Boss Hog."

At 64, he still tries to set an example by devoutly staying in shape with calisthenics and long walks. He said he needs to exercise because he shares his players' hearty appetites.

On a typical Saturday night before a game, Bugel said he and other coaches will order a plate of double hamburgers.

"We build pyramids with French fries and the hamburgers, run the ketchup right off the side," he said. "After you polish off a couple of burgers with heavy cheese, you make your own sundae. Then you go to bed and listen to your heart beat."

Redskins tonight

Preseason matchup: Atlanta Falcons (2-1) vs. Washington Redskins (2-2)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

Time: 7

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

Line: Redskins by 3 1/2

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