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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Redskins Feel at Home With Gibbs' Approach

August 06, 2004|Sam Farmer

ASHBURN, Va. — They were the irregular Joes.

Joe Gibbs, Joe Bugel, Joe Theismann -- once Washington's most influential running mates this side of Pennsylvania Avenue -- shared the field at Redskins Park this week, with Gibbs and Bugel, his legendary offensive-line coach, working to revive the franchise and Theismann observing from the sideline.

"Feels like old times," said Theismann, the quarterback-turned-broadcaster who led the Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XVII. "Just hearing the plays being called, seeing 'Bewgs' too close to the huddle -- I used to yell at him all the time to back away from my huddle -- just the terminology's the same, the plays are the same, all those things are the same."

Time will tell whether Gibbs' consistency will foster the same success he had in his first coaching go-around, when his teams won three Super Bowls and made the playoffs eight times in 12 seasons. After Gibbs retired in March 1993 and turned to stock-car racing, the Redskins made the playoffs once and went through five coaches: Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier.

The new-look Redskins will make their exhibition debut Monday against Denver in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

Gibbs, who signed a five-year deal worth $28.5 million, didn't wait until training camp to put his stamp back on the franchise. He began making changes right away. He had team headquarters repainted, and had a racquetball court knocked out to create more space for a luxurious players' lounge, one with cushy leather couches, a fully stocked kitchen and plasma TVs everywhere you look. His goal was to create an environment that felt like home, a place players wouldn't want to leave.

"This is an enjoyable place to be around again," tackle Jon Jansen said. "The first couple years that I was here, with Norv and Marty, you liked coming and being around the coaching staff, you liked being around the guys.... [But] we got away from that. Now we've gotten back to it. It's an enjoyable environment to be in again."

When things weren't so good, Jansen, for one, felt like a mercenary.

"It was an environment where you didn't want to ask questions, you didn't want to hang out, you just wanted to get your job done, get in and get out," he said. "It's miserable. It's miserable with your family. Any time you see anybody, they want to talk about why you guys aren't any good. It's a miserable existence. You don't feel right on any level."

If it was bad for an offensive lineman, it was worse for Patrick Ramsey, who was sacked 30 times in 11 games last season, and may have taken as brutal a beating as any quarterback in the league. A lot of that was traceable to Spurrier's system, which worked like a dream at the University of Florida but didn't translate to the NFL. Often, there were too many receivers and too few guys sticking around to block.

"You can do as many exotic things as you want," Theismann said, "but if your quarterback is laying on the ground, it's not going to be very exotic."

That's why -- to the great relief of battling Redskin quarterbacks Ramsey and Mark Brunell -- Gibbs and Bugel have made protecting the quarterback a priority.

"I don't think Steve Spurrier had that as a priority," Theismann said. "I think that's one of the problems that Steve ran into last year. He didn't design any type of protection for his quarterback at this professional level until Week 8. That's when things started changing, and he wasn't calling the plays then. Sometimes when you have a philosophy that was so successful, and his was, you think it can just be moved to another level. It took awhile to find out that it just didn't work out that way."

Some people figured it out much quicker than others. Jansen said he and his fellow offensive linemen could see those sacks coming even before the ball was snapped.

"It's amazingly frustrating when you can't talk to the coaching staff to try and make things better," he said. "You can't even make them see that there might be a different way to do it. And when they bring seven guys and you've got five guys blocking, some guy comes free through the right side, 'Well, it must be [guard] Randy [Thomas] and Jon's fault.'

"There were times when we would line up, and it's like, 'I'm going to block this guy, but I know this other guy's going to come around here and get him.' You knew the block wasn't there. You just took the lesser of two evils and hoped the ball got out. It was embarrassing."

Bugel, who in the 1980s transformed an anonymous group of linemen into "the Hogs," among the best offensive lines in league history, says he sees the same potential in this group.

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