Since the very first day of training camp, there has been an atmosphere of single-mindedness among the players that is much different from last season. Even that first day of camp last week when, because of the lockout one would think that players would be downright giddy at the thought of getting back to football, there wasn’t much clowning around as the players headed out of the facility and down to the field. No surprise there. Between the shortened amount of time available to get ready for preseason game #1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the amount of competition that head coach Mike Shanahan has implemented, the players have no choice but to be extremely focused if they want to stay on the team. This is refreshing when considering the circus-like atmosphere of last season.
I mentioned this to a few players this past week.
“That was the mindset of everybody,” receiver Terrence Austin said about the focused attitude of the team. “We’re ready to get back out here and get back to work. I mean, as long as we’ve wanted a little break, with that long [period during the lockout] going on, we’d had enough. After having all our meetings and stuff and going back over the plays, people were more familiar with the stuff and it was like, ‘Okay, I remember I made this mistake last year so I’m ready to get back out here and correct it and be better now.’ So, I think that is what the mindset was coming out here to practice.”
Yesterday was Fan Appreciation Day at Redskins Park and the attending crowd was a good one. I haven’t gotten exact counts of attendance on the previous days that were open to the public but yesterday’s was by far the highest. And, being that these were Redskins fans, the crowd was typically loud and enthusiastic.
After the band and the cheerleaders did their part in getting the crowd fired up, the players were greeted by a chorus of cheers from fans lined up behind the banner-laden fence. The offense and defense worked drills on the two separate fields for a large part of the early afternoon while fans offered their opinions.
“O-SACK-po!!” “Welcome back, Santana!!” “Lay it down, Zo!!” “Cooooooley!!”
The drills were high-tempo and the players looked sharp. I think they fed off of the crowd – most of the time to their benefit. At one point, receivers coach Keenan McCardell was working with the wide outs fairly close to the barrier where many of the fans stood. Wide out Santana Moss (a crowd favorite who was recently re-signed for three years and $15 million, including $6 million guaranteed) was getting a lot of attention from the crowd and actually dropped a couple of passes, I think, because of the distraction. However, the crowd cheered him on, giving him a pass on the drops!
Give me a Redskins fan that is not happy that Moss is back and I’ll give you a hiker happy to find they’ve surprised a rattlesnake!
On the other end of the field, the running backs were working on pass-catching out of the backfield and the crowd there was just as animated. Shanahan has brought some serious speed onto the team and those guys are all clearly working hard to make a spot for themselves on this roster. These fans noticed this.
Newly signed running back Shaun Draughn is fighting hard to get noticed but youngster Roy Helu, Jr. is going to be hard for anyone to ignore. That kid is fast. The former Cornhusker can make a cut and get through a hole as quickly as any player I’ve seen. It is very strange watching him pop out of a scrum of players wearing that #26 jersey. It brings back memories of Clinton Portis his first or second year with Denver.
The highlight of the day for fans and media alike was the 11-on-11 drills. Obviously there was not a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks but there were some nice moves made. During one play, quarterback Rex Grossman was rushed pretty heavily but managed to get a 30-or-so-yards pass off to tight end Fred Davis, who has looked very good in camp. He is wearing number 83 now by the way, has trimmed down and looks to be in great shape.
Wide-out Jabar Gaffney had a nice one-handed grab down the side-line on another pass from Grossman as well. A few times receiver Anthony Armstrong showed just how fast he is, beating cornerbacks on a passes coming in over his shoulder and landing softly in his hands.
When the practice was over, the players were generous about signing autographs and I heard a few of them comment that they appreciated that fans had taken the time to get out to the Park. The weather cooperated except for a short period of light rain. Even with the concern surrounding the rehabilitation of guys like safeties LaRon Landry and Kareem Moore; or the injuries to receiver Malcolm Kelly – who was having a good camp before he got hurt – and return specialist Brandon Banks, Redskins fans demonstrated that they were the best in the business yesterday.
This is a good year to be a Redskins fan. No matter what the Redskins’ over-under predictions are in Las Vegas (the last time I checked it was something like 6.5), there are some things working in their favor. 1) They are in their second year of Shanahan’s system, 2) so far there are no big locker-room distractions, 3) the head coach has upgraded in talent and depth on several key positions and; 4) there’s always hope in a new season.
Yes, there is uncertainty at the quarterback position (to be addressed separately) but things could be much worse: Washington could be owned by Mike Brown.