Old-fashioned Gibbs forced to adapt

Gibbs forced to adapt to changing game

Redskins: After last season's 6-10 record, Washington's coach will try to return the team to greatness with a new-look offense.

Pro Football

July 31, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SIX WINS — In the tentative remake of the Washington Redskins' golden era, icon/coach Joe Gibbs has been criticized for running an outdated offense, getting plays into the huddle late and trading draft picks frivolously.

Six wins - when Washingtonians envisioned a Super Bowl parade - will do that.

Now that reality has replaced idol worship in the nation's capital, and with the Redskins poised to launch Year 2 of Gibbs 2 tomorrow in Ashburn, Va., it's time to take a recount.

Just how bad were the Redskins in Gibbs' comeback season of 2004?

Short answer: 6-10 doesn't begin to describe the debacle.

Gibbs' signature offensive play, the counter trey, was ineffective against blitzing defenses. His quarterback of choice, veteran Mark Brunell, was an $8.6 million bust. His once-innovative offense, which in 1983 set an NFL scoring record that stood for 15 years, stalled in gridlock.

"They looked like a sprinter trying to sprint in the mud," said Mark May, a former Redskins tackle turned TV analyst. "The game is so much faster than it was a decade ago."

Said ESPN's Mike Golic, a former defensive tackle: "On the sidelines, there seemed to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. There seemed to be a lot of discussion [among coaches]. It seems like Joe and the guys were trying to feel their way through the game [of] today."

When Gibbs left his NASCAR team and gave up football retirement to revive the dormant Redskins a year ago, he was caught in a time warp. The Hall of Fame coach with three Super Bowl rings brought back offensive assistants Joe Bugel, Don Breaux, Jack Burns and Rennie Simmons from his old staff.

But quarterback Joe Theismann was in the broadcast booth, fullback John Riggins was off doing radio, and the renowned Hogs were dining on something other than roast of defensive tackle.

In Gibbs' 11-year hiatus, the game changed, players changed and rules changed. The salary cap was in, veteran teams were out. Defense was more aggressive and sophisticated. Players were empowered by wealth and privilege to air grievances, real or imagined.

"The whole landscape had changed," said Ron Wolf, retired Green Bay Packers general manager. "Joe is a brilliant X's and O's person, and he's already in the Hall of Fame. But unfortunately today, there's a little more to it than that. It's learning how to live in the present day [NFL] society, which is completely unfamiliar territory to him from his previous experience. I think that takes some sort of an adjustment."

In this case, the adjustment was painful. Brunell, who cost the Redskins a third-round pick in addition to an $8.6 million signing bonus, started the first nine games (losing six) before Gibbs benched him.

Running back Clinton Portis, the team's prize catch in free agency, rushed for 1,315 yards, but was not comfortable in his new offense. He disdained the counter trey and was accommodated with more zone blocking late in the season.

Stalwart offensive tackle Jon Jansen suffered a season-ending injury in preseason; the offensive line never recovered. Even though the passing game improved with the switch to Patrick Ramsey, the deep ball remained missing in action.

"Last year it got to a point where we couldn't make a long play," Gibbs said at a June minicamp. "If there's one thing to pick out on offense that we'd like to do a better job of, it's the deep passing game."

After averaging 24.2 points a game under Gibbs from 1981 to 1992, the Redskins averaged 15 points last season, scoring the second-fewest points in the league. They ranked 31st in yards per play, and were last in pass plays of 40 yards (four) and 20 yards (27).

By the end of the season, Gibbs, who did the play-calling, let his assistants run the offense. The Redskins won three of their last five games.

"Last year they had major problems getting plays called and getting them in," said May. "By the time the quarterback got the play into the huddle and to the line, there were only six or seven seconds left and no time to audible."

As bad as the season was, the offseason was even worse:

Safety Sean Taylor, who skipped offseason workouts at Redskin Park, was arrested in Miami in June on charges of felony assault and misdemeanor battery. He faces trial Sept. 12 and a possible three-year prison term. Nevertheless, he's expected to report to training camp today.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington complained bitterly about Gibbs' handling of his rehabilitation from knee surgery. A day later, he blamed the media.

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles caught 90 passes, but disliked Gibbs' offense so much that he talked his way out of Washington.

The Redskins lost cornerback Fred Smoot and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, two mainstays of the league's No. 3 defense, because of salary cap mismanagement. The Redskins' dire cap situation was worsened by the Brunell situation.

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