DID JOE GIBBS really come back for this? Did the Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl winner return to pro football last year to go 6--10, his worst record in 13 seasons as an NFL coach? Did the offensive guru end his retirement to watch his team score 15 points a game, the second-fewest in the league? "People always ask me, 'Did you have fun?'" says Gibbs, 64. "I say, 'I did six times. Ten times I didn't.' But I think for me, this is where I'm supposed to be."
Whether Gibbs has more fun this year depends in large part on the ability of Patrick Ramsey, a quarterback on a short leash, to hook up with a height-challenged receiving corps. At one wideout the Redskins will start 5'10" Santana Moss, acquired from the Jets in a trade for Laveranues Coles. On the other side they have 5'10" David Patten, lured from the Patriots with a five-year, $13 million free-agent deal. By going small at wide receiver Washington is bucking the trend toward the Terrell Owens prototype (the physical aspects, anyway) but also harking back to the days of their own Smurfs--the quick, diminutive wideouts who helped the Gibbs-led Skins to victory in Super Bowl XVII. Patten adds that anyone who doesn't believe a team can win with smaller receivers hasn't been watching the Patriots win three of the last four NFL titles. "Look at their roster the past four years," he says. "You might prefer a big receiver and think he's going to give you an advantage, but you look at [the Pats'] corps, our tallest starting receiver [David Givens] was 6 feet. And Deion Branch, last year's Super Bowl MVP, is 5'9"."
At least Ramsey is 6'2" and able to spot his receivers squirting through the secondary, though at the same time he'll be watching over his shoulder for veteran passer Mark Brunell and rookie first-round pick Jason Campbell. Ramsey won back the starting job from Brunell at midseason last year, but he threw only 10 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, and Brunell, who turns 35 on Sept. 17, has looked better in camp than he did in 2004 (his first season with Washington). In reaffirming Ramsey as his starter going into the season, Gibbs says selecting Campbell out of Auburn with the 25th pick follows his pattern of always drafting good quarterbacks when they are available, as he did with Jay Schroeder in the third round of the 1984 draft, when he had Joe Theismann. The Redskins, however, paid a high price for the 6'5" Campbell, sending the Broncos their third-round choice in 2005 and first- and fourth-round selections in '06 so they could move up to take him.
Ramsey, the last choice of the first round of the 2002 draft, admits that he felt slighted when the Redskins selected a quarterback so high but says what matters most is that the ball is in his hands. "What it comes down to is, I need to play well this year," Ramsey says, "and we'll take it from there." He will at least be working behind an improved line. The team signed free-agent center Casey Rabach (six years, $18.5 million), late of the Ravens, and right tackle Jon Jansen returns after missing all of 2004 with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Those two will also be counted on to open more and bigger holes for Clinton Portis, who in his first season in Washington rushed for 1,315 yards but was held to 70 yards or less in seven games.
Jansen says the offense should be better in 2005 simply because players didn't have to learn another new system, a rarity for them in recent years; the seven-year veteran says this off-season was the quietest he has seen in Washington. True, free safety Sean Taylor faces a felony aggravated-assault charge stemming from a June incident in which his two all-terrain vehicles were allegedly stolen (his scheduled Sept. 12 trial date could be postponed until after the season), but there were no major coaching moves for a change and relatively little player turnover as owner Daniel Snyder has stuck to his word and let Gibbs run the team. "Every year leading up to this one we've had a lot of hoopla and a lot of circus activity," Jansen says. "This year we've stayed pretty low-key and we've kept a lot of guys, as many as we could. I think there are going to be a lot of [opponents] who aren't ready for us."
If part of the Gibbs plan was to sneak up on opponents in Year 2, last season will have been the perfect setup. --Bill Syken
The Redskins completed only five passes for more than 40 yards last season, and that's why they acquired wideout Santana Moss in a trade with the Jets. The fifth-year burner had seven receptions of 40 yards or more in the regular season and the playoffs combined, averaging 18.3 yards per catch. A punt returner as well in New York, Moss will be able to concentrate on pass catching in Washington, as Antonio Brown will be bringing back punts.
An Opposing Scout's View: Enemy Lines
Patrick Ramsey is a tough kid because he's taken so many hits over the years, but he's really only a serviceable quarterback.... Clinton Portis has a ton of talent--he has a great burst--but he needs to get more focused again. He took on a rock-star persona after he got that big contract last season.... They don't gain much by adding Santana Moss. He might be the best short guy in the league when you're talking about players who scare you with their explosiveness, but it's tough to find small receivers in traffic. After him, they really don't have anybody at that position who impresses me.... Their line should be solid. Having Jon Jansen back at right tackle will help because he's an excellent run blocker and the guy who sets the tone on that unit.... Lavar Arrington is one of the 10 best athletes in the league, but he doesn't have a great feel for how offenses are trying to attack him. Plus, he freelances too much.... Cornelius Griffin is the only guy on their defensive line who will create problems for opponents. He can be disruptive with his quickness and his ability to shoot gaps.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics
2004 RECORD: 6--10
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): OFFENSE 21/29/30 DEFENSE 2/7/3
COACH: Joe Gibbs; 14th season with Washington (130--70 in NFL)
SANTANA MOSS [New Aquisition]
CASEY RABACH [New Aquisition]
FG MADE 8
DAVID PATTEN [New Aquisition]
SACKS 4 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)
19 at Dallas (M)
25 Open date
9 at Denver
16 at Kansas City
23 SAN FRANCISCO
30 at N.Y. Giants
13 at Tampa Bay
27 SAN DIEGO
4 at St. Louis
11 at Arizona
24 N.Y. GIANTS (S)
1 at Philadelphia
NFL rank: 28 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .465 Games against playoff teams: 5