Redskins enjoying calm training camp after years of drama
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Washington Redskins are the team that gave us Michael Westbrook punching Stephen Davis, Dan Snyder landing his helicopter during practices, Albert Haynesworth turning the conditioning test into a sideshow and Mike Shanahan using the podium to remind everyone that he was Robert Griffin III's boss.
Having lived through some of that drama-a-day legacy, veteran guard Chris Chester has noticed something different about this year's training camp. When he speaks to reporters or hears from family and friends, he isn't having to fend off questions about some sort of tension within the organization.
"It's kind of nice, actually," Chester said. "You just want to play football, instead of worry about things you have no control over."
Welcome to Camp Peace and Harmony, or at least that's the general ambiance in the first few days under new coach Jay Gruden. The only clouds hanging over the proceedings are the ones that have threatened to cancel practice with rain on a couple of days.
"We're not in the headlines," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "I don't see us on the SportsCenter ticker at the bottom every day. ... And that's a good thing. But with success comes scrutiny. We had a successful year the year before. There was expectations. We want to play to a level where there are expectations and we do cause a buzz. Right now we're enjoying being under the radar, being the underdog."
There have been no significant injuries to key players, no one making an attention-getting gripe over playing time, no deer-in-headlights gaffes by the rookie NFL coach. Griffin, whose media schedule was tightly regulated under coach Shanahan, now speaks to reporters every day, making him look more relaxed. Team owner Snyder didn't show up until Day 4, looking low-key in shorts and a yellow Redskins cap. Attendance is down significantly from last year, although that could be attributed to several factors: earlier practice times, threatening weather, the 3-13 record in 2013.
Gruden couldn't ask for a better start, even as he realizes that it's a honeymoon phase that won't last forever.
"We are going to have rifts from time to time, and we are going to try to keep those in-house," Gruden said. "I'm sure for whatever reason they got exposed last year with the media. I think anytime you have a disagreement with a player, I think it's between the player and coach and hopefully that stays that way. ... But it's so far it's been clean. It's early. We haven't lost a game yet, and I'm sure once the bullets start flying, there will be some controversy from time to time. It's important for us to handle it like men."
Monday was the liveliest day of camp to date, with drills that included live tackling. Griffin had his best day yet, a welcome relief for fans after three days of inconsistency from the franchise QB. The on-field intensity reached a level unseen in years — Shanahan rarely put players in full pads never wanted anyone taken to the ground. There was a bull-in-the-ring drill, some scuffles and lots of trash-talk.
Gruden said things got carried away a few times, but he liked the tenor of the practice and said it was important to see whether some of the young players vying for roster spots can actually tackle.
"In shorts, you just can't tell," Gruden said.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the newfound lack of in-house stress is that, under the organization's new structure, everyone is allowed to do his own job. Shanahan had a strong imprint on everything, from player signings to assistant coach minutia. Team president Bruce Allen is now in charge of the front office, while Gruden only has to worry about coaching the team — yet he's making clear that he's giving his assistants more autonomy.
"We brought in some great coaches and we've got some great defensive minds, so I don't think he needs to micromanage everything," Cofield said. "I think the great head coaches let their assistants, let their coordinators, let their players police themselves. That's what I've seen so far, and I'm excited about it."
Gruden said he's always tried to delegate, even when he was an assistant. While he obviously keeps a close eye on the defense and special teams, his primary focus with the Redskins is the offense.
"I just want to make sure that the guys that I hired are allowed to do their job, and that's coaching," Gruden said. "Sometimes they don't feel like they can do their job when the head coach is always looking over their shoulder saying, 'Don't do that, don't do this.' I want to let them coach and give them the freedom to do what they like to do."
Notes: WR Pierre Garcon left practice early on Monday with "a little soreness in his hamstring," according to Gruden. ... Rookie CB Courtney Bridget injured his right shoulder and was scheduled for an MRI. ... The Redskins signed LB Everette Brown, who has played in 38 games over four seasons with Carolina, San Diego and Dallas. ... Players will have their first day off Tuesday.