Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
The Redskins may not be winning like they used to, but they certainly always have been able to draw a crowd. More than 29,000 fans descended on the team’s facility in the Virginia suburb of Ashburn, and new coach Mike Shanahan addressed the masses at the end of practice, then signed autographs for more than an hour.
Outside of that, this is a very business-like atmosphere. The buildings at Redskins Park look like nothing fancy, and the grass field in back, where the team practices, are surrounded by woods and swampland. The team’s old tradition was to ramp up at Dickinson College, the Carlisle, Pa., home of Redskins training camp from 1963-94 and again in 2001 and ’02.
As for the feel, Shanahan held a practice of two-plus hours on Saturday that was light on individuals and appeared to be very heavy on situational drills, 7-on-7s and full team work. They were hitting too, but not in full pads, since Shanahan likes to use that as a message to players not to go at teammates’ legs.
THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
Building the 3-4: Jim Haslett plans to implement a Steeler style of defensive front, and that was enough to raise the eyebrows (and the ire) of big-ticket defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. But Haynesworth’s big problem seemed to be with playing nose tackle, and it now looks like he might not have to do that, after finally completing his conditioning run. Veteran 350-pounder Maake Kemoeatu has been manning the nose, and Haslett may well stick Haynesworth at end, where he had more opportunity to get upfield, opposite Adam Carriker. The real beneficiary in this transition might be second-year stud Brian Orakpo, who seems perfectly suited to play on the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Settling the skill positions: We know Donovan McNabb is the quarterback, Santana Moss will start at receiver and little else. Joey Galloway is holding off 2008 draft disappointments Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas on the depth chart, for now, and a crowded, aging group is battling for time at tailback. Larry Johnson, believe it or not, stuck out among those guys on Saturday. Chris Cooley’s entrenched at tight end, but Fred Davis will push him. So overall, the team has to be looking for players to start separating themselves, which would give the new quarterback more chances to build a rapport with those he’ll go to battle with.
Changing the culture: It’s a buzz term, of course, but it’s a necessary one in this case. It’d be kind to call the 2009 Redskins a mess. Complete disaster might work better. To clean the gutters at Redskins Park, Shanahan has raised the demands and expectations, and the whole problem with Haynesworth, who returns to full team drills Monday as a backup (for now), shows that no one’s exempt. For now, there’s a pretty high buy-in rate. “He’s not gonna accept less than ‘all’,” said veteran receiver Santana Moss. “And that’s what we’re going to give him.”
TYING IN THE PATRIOTS
As Joey Galloway stood near a large group of fans and talked about how long it’s been since he played in the NFC East, McNabb came over and cracked, “When was that? About ’78?” Galloway’s not that old, but in his short-lived stint with the Patriots last year, it might have seemed that way. All the 39-year-old will say is that “It just wasn’t a good situation for me”, and that he’s not disappointed now, but “If you’d asked me that while it was going on, the answer might’ve been different.” Either way, he feels ready for at least one more go-around. When the Redskins called, he was working on a television contract. So while Galloway is preparing for retirement, he isn’t quite ready to call it quits yet. “I can still do it, that’s why I’m here. (Retirement) is one of those things that are kind of up to the league. If you don’t get any phone calls, they’ve hung up on you.”
THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES
“He’s definitely what we needed. For what we’ve been going through and what was going on in this organization, it’s just a change of pace. Coach Shanahan came in and restored a lot of things in this organization, and not just for us having a coach, from top to bottom. Now you can say this organization is run great.”
— RB Clinton Portis
So after I finish work around midnight last night, I head out to meet a buddy of mine at bar on Capitol Hill. Easy enough from Dupont Cirlcle, right? Wrong. After asking me where I’m going, the D.C. cabbie that waved me down to pick me up asks me for directions. I’m a little confused – Isn’t it his job to know where something less than 3 miles away is? – but I go on my phone and find them for him. Not good enough. He tells me I should call and ask how to get there, which I wouldn’t have a problem doing, if I was the one driving over there. Before that, though, I ask if he takes credit cards, and he takes that as the green light to go out of his way (and our way) to find an ATM. Once I’ve got cash, he asks again that I call the place, and I tell him it’d probably be useless to call a bar at that hour. So he goes ahead, ignores my directions and gets on the Interstate. After taking that circuitous (and profitable, for him) route, we scream pass the bar, which I point out we’d passed. Instead of stopping, he says he’ll circle the block and drop me off out front, and spends that whole time softly honking at pedestrians to see if they need a ride. I’ve had some bad cab drivers in Boston and New York. This guy ranks up there.
THE GUY TO WATCH
Keep an eye on third-year safety Kareem Moore, a 2008 sixth-round pick out of Nicholls State. The Redskins are moving former first-round pick Laron Landry back to strong safety (he played there before Sean Taylor’s passing), and that’s open up the spot for a more athletic player at the position. Thus far, Moore’s been that player in camp, impressing last week by interception two Donovan McNabb throws in a three-pass sequence. That kind of play-making ability in the deep parts of the field would be just what the doctor ordered for Jim Haslett.
Johnson really did look impressive, both in goal-line drills and in full team work. You can see the vision is still there, and the burst he’s lacked appears to be, at least, some of the way back. He and Portis will likely split the load, and Willie Parker faces an uphill climb in making the team, particularly with young Ryan Torain also turning some heads. … McNabb’s arm strength hasn’t gone anywhere, but remains inconsistent. On one play, his muscle a ball spot-on into a tight window. On another, he’ll sail one over a receiver’s head. … Shanahan said that his son Kyle will have the kind of autonomy over the offense that Gary Kubiak – his offensive coordinator in Denver – did going into their fifth year together with the Broncos. The coach said his son is a better coach than even he thought. … Shanahan may be a year or two away from real contention, but it’s clear that there are athletes here, particularly on the defensive side with Orakpo, Haynesworth, and DeAngelo Hall. One thing that might be important to keep in kind: Though the coach himself wouldn’t be drawn into the correlation, it does seem like it would only make sense to acquire a 33-year-old quarterback if you think your team is in striking distance.