At Redskins Park, in Ashburn, Va., the year-round training ground for Washington, in the flight path of nearby Dulles Airport a half-hour from the city. It's a mini-Snyderville, with a field of tents set up behind the building for the big-wig sponsors and banners ringing the backside of the building (Toyota, FedEx, MasterCard, etc.). Fans park outside the complex and walk in, and this morning, the first practice day of camp for the full squad, about 1,000 (mostly sedate) fans come to stand on one side of the main practice field to watch the show.
I long for the days of camp in Carlisle, Pa., at Dickinson College, where there was much more fan/player interaction (although, to be fair, I think JasonCampbell kissed every baby and signed every kid's hat in a three-county region after practice) and the 20 players occasionally stopping for frozen custard at the stand next to campus before night meetings, and the experience much more traditional. But those days, here, are probably not coming back.
1.Remember Mike Williams, the fat, lazy first-round Buffalo tackle a few years ago? He's back. More about this in Monday Morning Quarterback, but Williams, projected to be a franchise tackle for years when Tom Donahoe took him high in the first round in 2002, has lost 108 pounds this year and was working with the second unit at right tackle Thursday. He looks light on his feet -- as light as a 338-pound fellow can -- and has a very good shot at making this team if he continues to play athletically and with the hustle I saw him display on about 10 snaps in the morning practice.
2. Look for Albert Haynesworth to have the chance to be more disruptive this year than he was in Tennessee. Talked to well-respected defensive coordinator Greg Blache after the second workout of the day, and he told me Haynesworth would likely move from the inside to end on some passing downs. If that's the case, I asked, would offenses have to face the 350-pound Haynesworth bull-rushing from one side and the lithe Brian Orakpo rushing from the opposite ... on maybe a third of the snaps per game. "Maybe,'' Blache said with a big smile. "Maybe. We'll see.'' It only makes sense to spread those guys out and let offenses figure out who to double.
3. It's only one day, one snapshot, but Jason Campbell looks more relaxed and at ease under Jim Zorn's tutelage to me. Here's why: This is the first time in Campbell's nine years of college and pro football that he's been the starter for a second straight year in the same offensive system with the same coach.
"There's no question it has to help him,'' Zorn told me. "He's a more comfortable player and it shows in everything he does.'' I'm writing about Campbell for the magazine next week, and he had some interesting things to say about an off-season that had the Redskins looking to deal for Jay Cutler, draft MarkSanchez, and, I think, resurrect Sonny Jurgensen. But he's in a good place with his emotions now, and he'll have every chance to succeed or fail on his own this year after a roller-coaster of a season last year. I liked how he threw the ball in the morning practice -- crisp, with a tight spiral, and with accuracy.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. When Haynesworth was talking to the Redskins, he wanted to be sure of one thing: He wouldn't have to change his style of play. The Titans allowed him to penetrate and attack the backfield over the last seven years. Under Blache, the Washington tackles have been more read, hold the fort, and then react and attack.
"If I was going to come here, I wanted to make sure they'd let me be me,'' Haynesworth told me. "I wasn't coming here to change my style and be one of those 'read' guys. But they said they wanted me to play my game, and so that made my decision easier.
Traditionally, Blache's tackles mostly stay at home and set up plays for the rest of the defense, but he said he'd never had a tackle like Haynesworth. "We've always had things in our playbook for tackles like Albert to play, but we didn't have that guy. So we weren't going to force it.'' Now we'll see if Haynesworth can play a full season and anchor a defense very much in need of a big playmaker. He's only done that once in seven previous NFL years.
Kevin Barnes, cornerback, third round, Maryland. Other than Orakpo, who I didn't see (he signed late Thursday), the rookie with the best chance to play a role is the tall cornerback from just up the road in College Park. Barnes, lithe at 6-1, made two nice deflections in morning drills against veteran receivers. He'll likely start the season playing multiple special teams and as the fourth cornerback. He could move up depending on what once-a-Redskin-always-a-Redskin Fred Smoot has left in year nine at age 30.
Wide receiver Malcolm Kelly's shoes. I've never seen fluorescent yellow shoes on anyone before -- not on an athlete or a 16-year-old girl going to her junior prom -- but he wore them well today at practice. Look for Kelly, a disappointing second-round pick a year ago, to press hard for the starting job alongside Santana Moss, but the early returns make it appear Devin Thomas is ahead in competition for the second spot. He was flying in individual pass drills against corners in the morning, catching two balls deep, one on a perfect throw from Jason Campbell.
With my SI.com road crew -- Ross Tucker, the George Plimpton of former NFL guards, and multimedia coordinator Helin Jung -- we ate outside the Redskin walls because media don't eat with the team. On an early morning Starbucks stop before going to practice, Tucker spied the best name for a restaurant I've seen on this trip, and maybe ever: Moby Dick House of Kebab, sitting in the middle of a newish-looking strip mall about two miles from Redskins Park. "We have got to eat there, whatever it is,'' I said, and so back we went for lunch.
Happened to mention to Chris Cooley after the morning practice that we'd seen this place called Moby Dick House of Kebab nearby, and his eyes lit up. "I go there every Saturday before we leave on road trips,'' he said. "Fabulous. You've got to go. You'll love it.''
I'm in danger now of setting the bar so ridiculously high for food on this trip that I'll regret it later, but here goes. This is a Persian place, with all Iranian specialties. I chose the beef gyro, with a side of cucumber/tomato salad. The gyro was to die for. Tender and spicy meat (I added more spicy cucumber sauce) with onions, lettuce and tomato, in a pillowy pita. Add a SoBe black current water, and grading this place was simple.
Overall grade: A.
I asked the owner why he called it Moby Dick House of Kebab.
"Because you ask,'' he said in a thick Middle Eastern accent.
"I don't understand,'' I said. "Why?''
"The attention! The attention! Everyone is curious!''
1. The most interesting-looking player in camp: fullback Mike Sellers, who has a menacing five-inch stringy beard to go along with a physique that would scare me if I were an onrushing outside 'backer. At 6-3, 273 pounds, he's got to be the oddest-sized fullback playing in the league. And he's a crushing blocker. He finally got recognized for his destruction in the protection game last year, making the Pro Bowl. The Redskins are lucky to have him under contract for $745,000 a year; his value to Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis is much higher.
2. Hunter the Punter is here. Hunter Smith signed a minimum free-agent deal in the off-season, and it'll be interesting to see if the 31-year-old career Dome punter can thrive outside in Washington's four outdoor post-Thanksgiving games.
3.Colt Brennan will put up a good fight for the backup QB job, and he looked good in the morning practice I saw of him going head-to-head with Todd Collins. Gut feeling is that Collins wins it, because Jim Zorn will be more comfortable with Collins should he have to pull Campbell or replace him due to injury.
4. Clinton Portis: five 100-yard games in the first half of the 2008 season, 512 yards total in the second half. Is he wearing down? Or did the sieve of an offensive line kill him last year? Everyone talks about the line needing to do a better job to protect Campbell, which is true. I worry about the running game going down the toilet again late in the year.
5. By choosing to go with Orakpo over an offensive lineman (Michael Oher?) in the first round, the Redskins delayed the rebuilding of an aging, injury plagued unit. That worries me. It should worry Redskin fans.