Washington Redskins bye week gives players chance to refocus

Redskins rookie Ryan Kerrigan, the NFL's September Rookie of the Month, has been a key piece of the team so far.

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ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Last weekend, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan held a news conference at an unusual day and time: Saturday at 9 a.m.

It was an exercise in fulfilling a technicality, virtually useless from a news standpoint. Any and all updates for the next day's game against the St. Louis Rams had been given the previous afternoon when the coach addressed reporters after practice.

Shanahan was holding court solely because the NFL requires coaches to speak a certain number of times per week. He declined to do so on Tuesday following the Monday night loss at Dallas a few days earlier. Never mind that the NFL's media rules explicitly suggest that he do so. Never mind that every Redskins coach in recent decades — including Hall of Fame inductee Joe Gibbs — never had trouble finding a few minutes after a Monday night road game to help feed the public's insatiable appetite for the latest up-to-date word on the nation's most popular sport.

Instead, Shanahan called the league office and begged off.

"I've got to do the best thing for the organization," Shanahan said. "And the best thing for the organization for me to do when you get back at 5 o'clock in the morning when we have no sleep is to get ready for the next day. So I think I owe it to our football team, our organization, to spend the whole day, 24 hours, getting the game plan ready for that Wednesday."

Shanahan's different in lots of ways. A week earlier, just before a game against the despised Dallas Cowboys, a television reporter asked the coach if he had a special message for the fans. It's a standard question before a rivalry game, and Redskins coaches usually take that softball and hit it out of the park.

Shanahan was almost speechless.

"To who? What fans?" he said, before being asked again if he had a message to convey to the team's supporters. "No, hopefully they'll enjoy it. And hopefully we can make our fans happy."

Actually, that's one of the few times this season Shanahan has been caught off guard. Everyone expected life at Redskins Park to be take a sharp turn when he arrived a year ago, but it's taken him a year to get his hands firmly on the steering wheel. There were episodes that spiraled beyond even his controlling grasp during his first season, most having to do with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb.

This year, he is in control beyond any doubt. He's got the roster pretty much the way he wants it. He's got the coaching staff on the same page. He's visibly much more relaxed. And, of course, it helps that his team is defying expectations with a 3-1 start headed into this weekend's bye.

"I think you're always more relaxed in your second year," Shanahan said. "I think, first year, you have so many things going on — with evaluating personnel, and you're evaluating coaches, you're evaluating your support staff, and you're getting ready for a football season."

It shows in the way Shanahan banters with reporters. His answers about players' injuries have become notoriously repetitive and uninformative, to the point that when someone asked for an injury update a few days ago, he laughed and said: "Aw, you guys know — I never tell you the truth anyhow."

Like any good politician, he skirts around questions he doesn't like and sticks to his message. Ask him about a particular interception, and he'll talk about another one instead. And don't dare challenge him with a premise or an assertion without the facts to back it up. You know how golfers can amazingly recite the exact yardage and club for every shot over 18 holes? That's Shanahan with a play-by-play.

"First run we had a plus-6. Second run we had a plus-5. We had first-and-goal from the 1; we put it in the end zone," he said, rattling off a sequence from the Cowboys game as if it were his ABCs.

He offhandedly said earlier this season that he could remember all of the plays from the loss to Houston a year ago. Can that really be so?

"Usually the games you lose, you can remember most of them — if not all of them," he said.

Shanahan also went into detail about a replay review that caused the time to be changed from 1:23 to 1:39 when the Redskins were about to about to close out a one-point win over Arizona in Week 2. Those 16 seconds were key: Given the number of timeouts the Cardinals had remaining, the coach immediately knew he couldn't run out the clock with kneel-downs.

"Those are scenarios you go through 100 times in your mind," he said.

But those final seconds of a game can get frantic. Does he have an assistant coach in the booth upstairs assigned to help with clock management?

Shanahan chuckled. Of course he doesn't. He runs the game himself.

"If I can't do that," he said, "then I'm really in trouble."

It's a curious note that Shanahan's record (9-11) is worse than predecessor Jim Zorn's (10-10) at the 20-game mark of his Redskins tenure. But Zorn's time in Washington was marred by confusion and disorder, although much of it had to do with the front office structure at the time.

Shanahan is not into confusion. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what he's doing. And things will be done his way, even if means holding a news conference that competes with Saturday morning cartoons.

That's no guarantee of success, but it certainly makes things more orderly, and it helps push the recent troubled Redskins seasons appear more distant in the rearview mirror.

"What's happened in the past really doesn't relate to what you are right now," Shanahan said. "If you think you're in the past, you are in the past. This is a new team; we've got a lot of new football players. We do have some players that were here before, but the players that are here are obviously hand-picked for this type of offense, defense and special teams and the type of people that they are. Hopefully, we can create our own identity, and hopefully it will be positive."