Old guard, new mission

Coaches: Joe Gibbs and his veteran coaching staff were brought in to restore the Redskins' home-field advantage and winning tradition.

Nfl Preview 2004

The Redskins

September 09, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - The walls of Vinny Cerrato's office at the Washington Redskins' training facility are plastered with tiny labels containing the names and pertinent statistics of every NFL player.

It's part of the personnel chief's never-ending hunt for new talent.

But the names of the team's most significant pickups this season never found their way onto Cerrato's crowded walls.

Those names are Joe Gibbs, Joe Bugel, Gregg Williams, Don Breaux and the other coaches who arrived in the offseason carrying with them dozens of years of NFL experience, much of it previously with the Redskins.

The coaches' success at translating their voluminous experience into the NFL of 2004 will go a long way toward determining the course of Washington's season.

Fans, who associate Gibbs, 63, with the best days of the franchise, have the highest of hopes. WTEM, the local sports radio station, has been heralding the coach's arrival as a "return to glory."

But Gibbs knows success won't come easily. At the top of his to-do list is converting the atmosphere of FedEx Field into one in which the Redskins enjoy a true home-field advantage.

The team is 32-24-1 at the stadium in which it began playing in 1997 after abandoning RFK Stadium, where Gibbs' teams of the 1980s and early '90s were dominant.

Among other concerns is the offensive line, which permitted 43 sacks last season and has been hampered by injuries, including the season-ending Achilles' rupture of tackle Jon Jansen. The Redskins ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing last year.

Another potential problem spot is the defensive line, which struggled against the run last year and is trying to plug in key newcomers. The team ranked 25th in total defense last year.

Gibbs, who was 140-65 with the Redskins the first time around, left the team in 1993 and became owner of a successful NASCAR team. His coaching colleagues say pro football was never far from his thoughts.

"Joe Gibbs is a detail person," said Williams, the former Buffalo Bills head coach whom Gibbs tapped to head up Washington's defense. "There are so many things that he knew about the league before he decided to step back into it. He knew what defenses were doing."

Even if the team hadn't improved its personnel, Cerrato said the new coaching staff's experience will give the Redskins an edge.

"With these coaches, I feel like I did at Notre Dame with Lou Holtz," said Cerrato, who was Holtz's recruiting coordinator in the late '80s. "You feel like you have a leg up when these guys are on the field."

As usual, Cerrato and owner Daniel Snyder were far from idle when it came to the team's roster.

The biggest pickup may be flashy running back Clinton Portis, who says he's ready to carry the ball 30 times a game if that's what Gibbs demands. He says he hopes to remain in the game on third down - a down when Gibbs formerly had a penchant for bringing in a pass-catching specialist.

"I'm an every-down back," Portis said.

Other new acquisitions are quite literally throwing their weight around, too.

At 6 feet 2, 231 pounds, rookie safety Sean Taylor, selected in the first round from Miami, is big and fast enough to make an instant mark.

Taylor, who had three interceptions in the preseason, is Washington's most heralded first-round pick since linebacker LaVar Arrington in 2000.

"He's a ballhawk," said cornerback Shawn Springs, a seven-year NFL veteran signed in the offseason to replace Champ Bailey, the departed All-Pro cornerback who was traded to the Denver Broncos for Portis. "Every time I look at him [Taylor], I say, `You remind me of myself when I was a rookie.' "

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