2002 NFL training camp

Len Pasquarelli

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Wednesday, August 21
Updated: August 25, 11:58 AM ET
 
Spurrier should learn to relax

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

ASHBURN, Va. -- Here are five observations on the Washington Redskins:

Steve Spurrier
Spurrier has been an instant winner in the preseason, but the true test has yet to begin.
1. The self-proclaimed "ol' ball coach," aka Steve Spurrier, has his offense piling up points and yardage at a preposterous rate to this point. Of course, the damage he's inflicted on NFL defenses has been in preseason, and much of it against second- and third-unit players, a point that has not escaped the scrutiny of some local media outlets (the ones, that is, who don't practice shameless boosterism). Asked about the offense on Tuesday afternoon, the OBC, whose skin is about as thick as, oh, that of an onion, bristled. For a guy who can be brutally candid, Spurrier opted to be brutal, period. Of the first four questions, he answered not a one, preferring instead to jab and counter and, in a sarcastically self-effacing manner, extend his agenda. One of Spurrier's best qualities has always been the verbal badinage in which he chooses to engage and that sometimes carries over into an in-your-face style. In truth, given that the NFL is a league where the coaches almost never offer much more than trite sound bites, Spurrier is a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. But he also needs to take the chip off his shoulder at some point. The guy is a brilliant offensive mind. Hey, anyone who can do what he's done with Danny Wuerrfel, even if this is preseason, ought to be regarded with awe. At the same time, Spurrier should be smart enough to realize that the media is going to question whether his "Fun and Gun" offense will work once the bullets are live. He might also take note that, even if you are "working on the running game," as he insisted Tuesday, the running game isn't working for him. Anyone who watched the University of Florida on a regular basis the past dozen seasons knows that the Spurrier offense is not as lopsided as it currently appears, and the Gators always ran the ball with power when they needed to do so. But if you're Stephen Davis right now, and you can wake up in the morning and knock off the dust that's accumulating from lack of use, you might be wondering how this year is going to unfold for you. So this word of advice, OBC, even though you couldn't care less: Have some fun. If you're still sticking it to opposition defenses three or four weeks from now, people will notice, and you won't have to resort to the feigned self-effacement to have them do so.

2. The past six or seven years of NFL history is littered with examples of wide receivers who played for Spurrier in college yet didn't make a dent in the NFL. Now we know why, at least in part, it seems: They didn't have Spurrier coaching them at the professional level. You think the guy's best miracle to date is transforming Wuerrfel into a quarterback who actually looks like he belongs in the league? Uh-uh. Try making Derrius Thompson and Chris Doering, wide receivers who have been through nine previous NFL training camps combined and have an aggregate 21 catches, into big-play contributors. Thompson was elevated to the starting lineup Tuesday, justifiably so, since he has 16 catches for 307 yards and four touchdowns in three exhibition outings. This from a guy who, in three previous seasons, had three receptions for 52 yards. Vice president of football operations Joe Mendes pointed out that it's rare when a wide receiver who has produced so little even gets invited to a fourth training camp. But credit Mendes and pro director Scott Campbell for recognizing Thompson might have the skills to eventually blossom. The light certainly seems to have clicked on now for Thompson and he could be the No. 2 starter, opposite Rod Gardner, when the season starts. Doering is a onetime Gators star who still can't run out of sight in a week, but whose career is being resurrected by his reunion with Spurrier and staff, after basically bouncing around since 1996. He could be the No. 3 wideout and a starter when the Skins open in three-wide packages. It never ceases to amaze what being in the right system can do for a player. Thompson didn't play at Florida, but obviously has found the right fit with the Spurrier offense. Doering, of course, played in the "Fun and Gun" and familiarity has earned him a roster spot. One caveat here, though, about how former UF wideouts can reach their potential with Spurrier as coach: Reidel Anthony, one of those onetime Gators who had failed at the NFL level, isn't playing any better under Spurrier's tutelage. Color him gone.

3. Look out, NFL, for strong-side linebacker LaVar Arrington. The third-year veteran was selected for his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2001, but will be even better now with Marvin Lewis stewarding the Washington defense. It is a strong linebacker corps, one of the best in the league with Jeremiah Trotter in the middle and Jessie Armstead on the weak side, but Arrington is the guy who figures to be featured. The former Penn State star has just 4½ sacks in his first two seasons. With the plans that Lewis has for him, Arrington will at least double that total this season, and will be recognized leaguewide as a big-play guy. Thought by his former coaches with the New York Giants to be used up, Armstead could enjoy a comeback season, at their expense in part. Trotter will make his usual 150-180 tackles, provided the defensive tackles keep blockers off his body. Oh, yeah, about those defensive tackles. Washington hasn't had a lot of luck at the position so far this summer. The team signed former Green Bay starter Santana Dotson, who most people in the league agreed was clearly in decline, and he blew out his Achilles in camp and is gone for the year. Then the team added former Miami starter Daryl Gardener, who came complete with a steamer trunk full of woes, and a history of back problems. Gee, guess what, Gardener recently had to have an epidural injection for his back. Despite publicly encouraging words from the Washington medical staff, there are suspicions Gardener is hurting again, and no one can say when he'll get back on the field. Dan Wilkinson remains a fixture in the front four, but his motor still gets stuck in idle too often.

4. It's a sensitive area with Washington officials but the team's interior offensive line, especially the guards, are suspect at best. Unfortunately, there may be no answers in free agency or the trade market, where the prospects might be no better than what Washington now has on the roster. The Skins wanted second-year veteran Mike Gandy from Chicago, when they were discussing a trade of first-round quarterback Patrick Ramsey to the Bears, but the deal didn't materialize. The local media has kicked around a lot of free agent names -- Glenn Parker (will need knee replacement surgery at some point and seems content to retire) and Ben Coleman (still sitting out camp, although he has plenty of offers) -- but Washington officials aren't going to sign a player just for the sake of signing one. The Redskins are talking to former Buffalo left tackle John Fina about the possibility of coming aboard and playing guard. For now, the Redskins might have to make do with the current starters, one of whom is former Princeton free agent Ross Tucker, who could develop into a player in time. The good news is that the addition of former Indianapolis Colts guard Larry Moore has stabilized the center position, his new spot. The better news is that the Redskins still have the NFL's best young tackle tandem in Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, although the latter is battling through an ankle problem right now.

5. Washington might do well to keep all four quarterbacks currently on the roster into the regular season. Wuerrfel seems to have locked up the No. 1 job with another former Gators star, Shane Matthews, behind him. The team can't cut or trade Patrick Ramsey, who gets zero snaps in practices and is destined for a redshirt year in '02. And then there's second-year pro Sage Rosenfels, who doesn't have a particularly strong arm but has been productive during his preseason appearances. Teams always claim that they can't keep four quarterbacks, but a 53-man roster allows for plenty of juggling, Spurrier will discover. And if some other team experiences an injury in the first month of the season, Washington would have a player to dangle in a trade.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.








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