DailyPress: Does Gibbs still have the magic touch?

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DailyPress: Does Gibbs still have the magic touch?

Postby ANT7088 » Sun Aug 01, 2004 11:21 am

Mark Brunell stepped onto the riser and plopped down in the burgundy director's chair. Instantly, a media horde descended.

"This is not quite Jacksonville," Brunell said with a wide grin.

Uh, no.

In nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brunell experienced nothing like Saturday, the opening of his first training camp with the Washington Redskins. Fanatics craving a glimpse began arriving at Redskins Park before dawn, more than three hours before the 9 a.m. practice. They stood 10-deep along one sideline, unable to see or hear anything of significance and loving every moment.

Reporters jetted in from Denver and Dallas. Camera crews recorded the most inconsequential movements. Owner Dan Snyder, shirt starched and tie perfect as always, observed from an end-zone tent.

So the Redskins are defending Super Bowl champions, right? They're prohibitive favorites to waltz through the NFC East. Must be to cause this ruckus.

Uh, no.

With one playoff appearance since 1993, Washington defines NFL mediocrity and defies the league's parity. Why, then, Saturday's fuss?

Joe Gibbs, of course. He's back as Redskins coach after an 11-year sabbatical, back to discover whether he still has the touch that produced three Super Bowl championships from 1981-92.

Gibbs and his staff have much to accomplish before opening the season Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Choose between Brunell and Patrick Ramsey at quarterback; retool a defensive line that generated little pass rush last season; develop touted rookie safety Sean Taylor into an immediate starter.

Most important, the coaches - Gibbs especially - need to instill the discipline that characterized his best teams and never appeared in Steve Spurrier's two seasons as coach.

The most tangible measure of discipline, or lack thereof, is penalties. The Redskins committed 124 for 1,038 yards last season. No Gibbs team ever committed more than 105; his 1987 Super Bowl champs lost 691 yards to 82 penalties, his 1992 team lost 741 yards to 84 flags.

The lesson: Discipline can be the difference between winning and losing.

As you would expect, players said they have embraced Gibbs' attention to detail and intolerance of error. They marvel at his zeal and record. "They demand the best out of us, and we're ready to give it to them," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said of Gibbs and his assistants.

But players offered similar testimony when Spurrier arrived. They bowed to his national championship credentials from the University of Florida, just as they acknowledge Gibbs' Hall of Fame resume.

The test is not words. The test is on the field. After years of success as a NASCAR team owner, can Gibbs get into this team's collective head?

Results Saturday were mixed, or as Gibbs said, "rough."

Center Cory Raymer and Ramsey mishandled a snap. Daryl Terrell, a veteran offensive lineman competing for a reserve spot, jumped offsides. Both gaffes drew the ire of Joe Bugel, one of the game's finest line coaches.

Bugel coached here under Gibbs from 1981-89, and much like the fans who chose Redskin Park over Rock Creek Park on Saturday, he couldn't wait to get started, to hear the crack of pads, to see Gibbs back at the controls. So there Bugel was at 4 a.m., pacing the halls of the team's nearby training headquarters, dropping occasionally to crank out a few push-ups.

That energy translated to the practice field.

"It's quick, it's crisp and it's hard," Raymer said.

"We're never really taking breaks," Samuels said. "We're always working."

Such is the Gibbs way. At 63, he appears more fit and trim than when he last prowled the sidelines. The only visible difference is wardrobe, Gibbs shedding those goofy, double-knit coaches' shorts in favor of mesh gym shorts.

"The guy hasn't missed a beat," Samuels said.

Not that Samuels knows. He was 14 when Gibbs "retired" in 1992.

Gibbs said he's too old to remember his first training camp as head coach, 1981. But on the off chance he forgets any tricks, he has long-time assistants Bugel, Don Breaux and Rennie Simmons - all 62 or older - to refresh his memory.

"To me, the coaches haven't missed a lick in the meetings," Gibbs said. "It's back to the old days."

The old days in meetings are one thing. The old championship days on the field are another.


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