'Skins spread out under Saunders

Chiefs' offensive architect brings new look

July 30, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

No offense in the NFL got up and down the field the past five years better than the Kansas City Chiefs.

No team scored more points, gained more net yards or punched up more first downs in that period.

Consider that a warning for the Washington Redskins' NFC East opponents this season. Because in a year when the Dallas Cowboys gained mercurial wide receiver Terrell Owens, the Redskins signed unflappable Al Saunders, the architect of that potent Chiefs attack.

Time will tell who made the better deal, but when the Redskins launch training camp today, they will feel good about their man. In Saunders, 58, they're getting one of the league's finest offensive minds.

The Redskins wanted Saunders on their staff - he carries the title of associate head coach - badly enough to give him $2 million a year for three years. Even more shocking, Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs surrendered play-calling control of his offense to Saunders, who left Kansas City in the offseason after the Chiefs replaced retiring Dick Vermeil with Herm Edwards.

Even though Saunders insists he's not scrapping Gibbs' system, there are significant changes, especially in the passing game. For starters, he will spread the field with formations and inject swagger into an offense that was anemic in last season's playoffs.

"I think you'll see more of an open, spread-out type of look than the constricted look that Washington presented the last couple of years," Saunders said.

"The volume of what we do and the numbers of plays [available to run] will be increased greatly."

Gibbs ran a power-based attack the past two seasons. Saunders is more creative in his formations. He coached under Vermeil in St. Louis when the Rams won the Super Bowl with a four-receiver offense.

In Kansas City, where he was offensive coordinator, Saunders developed a prolific offense with tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Priest Holmes and quarterback Trent Green as his main weapons. The Chiefs led the NFL in scoring in 2002 and 2003, and in total offense in 2004 and 2005 - despite the absence of an elite wide receiver.

A protege of former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell, Saunders is a devotee of fast-break football and Coryell's aggressive passing style.

"The versatility and the system itself allow you to run a lot of different schemes both passing- and running-wise," Saunders said. "What we've been able to do is take the qualities of players we have and incorporate a scheme, not take the player and fit him into a scheme."

In Washington, Saunders will work his magic around quarterback Mark Brunell, who turns 36 in September, running back Clinton Portis, tight end Chris Cooley and an upgraded group of wide-outs led by Santana Moss, who set a club record with 1,483 receiving yards in 2005.

The addition of playmakers Antwaan Randle El (free agent) and Brandon Lloyd (trade) should improve a passing game that ranked 21st a year ago.

"With our receivers, we've obviously added some talent," Gibbs said after his June minicamp.

Saunders doesn't think Brunell, who slumped badly down the stretch in 2005, will have a big transition to the new offense.

A lot of Brunell's reps will go to former first-round draft pick Jason Campbell, the heir apparent. To help in Campbell's assimilation of the offense, Saunders brought along Chiefs backup quarterback Todd Collins, who goes into the season as the No. 2 man.

Saunders' arrival in Washington is actually a reunion with Gibbs, with whom he coached for one year at Southern California in 1970. Both men were schooled by Coryell - Saunders at San Diego State and Gibbs with the Chargers.

"We have made a complete circle," said Saunders. "Joe has had such great success and he's an unbelievable person, much like Dick Vermeil. ... When we sit down and talk football, we talk from the same language, the same background. It makes for fabulous roundtable discussion, invigorating all of us.

"The best thing about this whole thing is, there are no egos involved. We're all wearing Super Bowl rings, we've all experienced outstanding success in our own way. The only agenda for Joe and his staff is to win the world championship." ken.murray@baltsun.com

REDSKINS CAMP

Players report today. The first open practice is tomorrow.

Where / / Redskins Park, Ashburn, Va.

Admission / / Parking and admission are free.

Information / / Redskins' training camp hotline: 703-726-7411.

Full schedule / / www.redskins.com

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