Charley Casserly needs only five words to sum up his message.
"Judge us on our season," says the Washington Redskins general manager.
He has repeated that phrase so often in the last few weeks that it virtually has become a mantra.
It's Casserly's reply to the skeptics who are judging the Redskins on their off-season, which was virtually an off-season from hell.
Or maybe it was the Murphy's Law off-season. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Joe Gibbs quit. Gary Clark left. Reggie White and Bill Romanowski snubbed them. Wayne Martin got away. Art Monk sulked. Wilber Marshall sued.
Things hit rock bottom when commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that the Redskins would get only third- and fifth-round picks from the Houston Oilers for Marshall. Tagliabue said Casserly interfered illegally in the talks between Marshall and the Oilers. He even called it a "mugging."
Casserly can't give his side of the Marshall case publicly. The commissioner has imposed a gag order. Suffice to say the Redskins still feel they were right.
On all other subjects, though, Casserly is ready to provide a spirited defense as new coach Richie Petitbon and the Redskins prepare to open training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., today.
"Sometimes change is good for your football team," Casserly said. "If people want to preach doom and gloom, we'll leave them behind."
Casserly sees no reason for gloom. He thinks the team will be vindicated this season. To start with, the Redskins won't be hit with a rash of holdouts and he figures the Redskins aren't likely to be hit with injuries the way they were last year.
"Last year was a disaster physically and we still made the playoffs," he said. "What we take off last year is more depth because everybody played and increased mental toughness. A team that was already mentally tough got tougher."
Casserly also says the defections aren't as serious as they appear at first glance. At linebacker, he insists that despite the loss of Marshall, the team will be better overall because of the addition of Carl Banks, Rick Graf and draft pick Rick Hamilton.
Casserly figures Al Noga will replace Fred Stokes at defensive end and Tim McGee will step in for Gary Clark at wide receiver. Top draft pick Tom Carter will more than offset the loss of Martin Mayhew at cornerback. And Casserly says the Redskins will develop a third-down pass rusher to replace Jumpy Geathers.
If Casserly is right that the Redskins have plugged all of their holes, the next question is whether Petitbon can replace Joe Gibbs.
"Richie will be fine," said Casserly, noting the San Francisco 49ers didn't miss a beat when George Seifert replaced Bill Walsh.
Nobody knows if Petitbon can make the transition from defensive coordinator, but there's no doubt things will be different. Petitbon is a blunt, no-nonsense type. It's hard to imagine him apologizing to Phoenix coach Joe Bugel the way Gibbs did after Bugel complained when the Redskins passed for a late touchdown against his team.
Petitbon also may be quicker to meet problems head-on. Once he decided Monk had lost a step, Petitbon brought him in and told Monk he wouldn't go to camp as the starter. Monk didn't like the situation and skipped mini-camp, but he knows where he stands.
Petitbon's main task will be to keep things rolling.
"I think what we're trying to do is not miss a beat," he said. "We kept our staff together, which is probably the biggest plus we have. I think we've got a great front office, a great owner. We've got everything it takes to win. We've got a winning formula and we're not going to tinker with that."
Although the defense should remain the same because Petitbon will continue to run it, there will be some tinkering on offense by Rod Dowhower, who was promoted to offensive coordinator when Gibbs left.
Dowhower won't use the one-back system exclusively the way Gibbs did. Besides mixing in some two-back with Earnest Byner at fullback, he'll also try more shorter passing routes.
In the end, though, the Redskins may rise and fall on the right arm of Mark Rypien. Even he admits he has to play better than last year.
"A lot of the criticism was justified," he said. "I don't think I played to a winning level."
Before Gibbs quit, he put Rypien on notice that Cary Conklin will be battling him for a job. It's unlikely Petitbon will have as much patience as Gibbs did.
Overall, though, Casserly thinks the Redskins remain one of the league's better teams.
"We were a good team last year and we'll be a good team this year," he said.
Now it's up to the Redskins to prove him right.
REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP
When: Players report today and start practicing tomorrow morning.
Where: Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. (Take I-83 North to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Go west and take the Carlisle exit.)
Open to public: Fans will be permitted to watch practice the first two weeks. Practices are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. and every weekday but Wednesday at 3 p.m. The team has an evening workout Thursday.
Pos. .. .. Player .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Former team
LB .. .. . Carl Banks .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . N.Y. Giants
LB .. .. . Rick Graf .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Houston Oilers
WR .. .. . Tim McGee .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Cincinnati Bengals
DL .. .. . Al Noga .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Minnesota Vikings
TE .. .. . Jim Riggs .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Cincinnati Bengals
Pos. .. .. Player .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. New team
WR .. .. . Gary Clark .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Phoenix Cardinals
DL .. .. . Jumpy Geathers .. .. .. .. .. .. . .Atlanta Falcons
LB .. .. . Wilber Marshall .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Houston Oilers
CB .. .. . Martin Mayhew .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Tampa Bay Bucs
DL .. .. . Fred Stokes .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. L.A. Rams
TE .. .. . Don Warren .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Retired