The great unknown

Hoping for surprise season, Gibbs and team face uncertain prospects

Reviving the Redskins

September 08, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Washington Redskins offer the kind of story lines that authors dream about.

With all sorts of twists and turns, subplots and intrigue, the Redskins have more suspense than a political espionage thriller. The question is: Can Washington crack the best-sellers' list?

No one knows. Coach Joe Gibbs isn't making any predictions and the players are clinging to hopes of a turnaround with a franchise that hasn't tasted the playoffs since 1999.

"The great thing about pro sports is that you don't have a clue [about what's going to happen in a season]," said Gibbs, whose return last year produced a 6-10 record, his worst in 13 years as Redskins coach. "I certainly don't have a clue. There's great surprises every year. ... There's no guarantees, and there's nobody that has all the answers. I certainly can't say how we'll do, but I hope it's going to be better."

The uncertainty is somewhat shocking to a player like wide receiver David Patten, who spent three of the past four years winning Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. But he is boldly defiant about some of the predictions he has read.

"No one expects us to do anything in the NFC East this year," Patten said. "Everybody's negative, and we kind of brought that on ourselves because we struggled in the past. But the bottom line is it's a new year and everybody's even, so we get a chance to come out and do some good things this year as long as we take care of our part."

Last year was a humbling experience for Gibbs, who guided the franchise to three Super Bowl victories between the 1982 and 1991 seasons.

His hand-picked quarterback, Mark Brunell, struggled until Gibbs replaced him with Patrick Ramsey in the ninth game. Running back Clinton Portis never developed a comfort level in Gibbs' counter-trey blocking schemes, and wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner were so discouraged by the offense's lack of production that they sought and got trades.

A new season gives birth to new hope, but questions abound.

The first is at quarterback, where Ramsey has been anointed the starter since the end of last season. Ramsey has a stronger arm than Brunell and is more experienced than first-round draft pick Jason Campbell.

In the Redskins' first three preseason games -- in which he played the entire first half in each -- Ramsey completed 29 of 49 passes (59.2 percent) for 408 yards and two touchdowns.

However, Ramsey was intercepted four times, and his unsteady play in the pocket incurred the wrath of Redskins fans, who booed him at two home games.

Ramsey knows that Brunell and perhaps Campbell are available if he falters, but the fourth-year pro isn't giving in to the pressure.

"It's probably my best opportunity," he said. "So if anything, you should feel less pressure because of that. We've got a good team put together. I like what we're doing, and we're moving the ball pretty well. ... We're continuing to get accustomed to one another, but there are a lot of things I've got to work on as well."

Ramsey is still trying to connect with new wide receivers Patten and Santana Moss, but Moss said the onus shouldn't be on Ramsey alone.

"It's not his task to go out there and lead us here and there," Moss said. "It's the guys around that have to make that job easy for him. We all take that pressure with him."

Gibbs has tried to alleviate some of that pressure by setting aside his disdain for the shotgun formation and hiring Bill Musgrave as quarterbacks coach.

The return of Jon Jansen from a ruptured Achilles' tendon and the addition of former Ravens center Casey Rabach shore up an offensive line capable of opening holes for Portis.

The defense, which ranked third in the league in yards allowed, lost middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot to free agency. But the team moved weak-side linebacker Lemar Marshall to the middle, added former Cleveland Brown Warrick Holdman to the weak side, and drafted Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers with the ninth overall choice in April's draft.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington and defensive tackle Brandon Noble return from knee problems to bolster the unit.

Still, Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach in charge of the defense, isn't satisfied.

"We were just good enough to win six games last year," said Williams, who has emphasized creating turnovers and trimming the time his unit spends on the field as priorities this fall. "That's how good our defense was -- just good enough to win six. If we had shut all the rest of those people out, maybe we would've won more."

Said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin: "We've got a goal of going to the playoffs. Don't compromise it. Don't put yourself in a situation where you say, `Well ... ' Just go out and do it and work hard every play."

So which Redskins team will show up on the field this season? Again, no one knows. For his part, Gibbs said he is equally excited and apprehensive.

"You're never sure you're really ready," he said. "Are we ready to start a season or not? That will probably be the feeling when I get there."

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