New look, old success? Petitbon's Redskins hope exhibition season brings positive signs


The foundation has been set. Now comes the task of constructing the season.

For two weeks, the Washington Redskins have gone through the basic practice sessions that start to form the team.

After taking two days off, they resume practice tomorrow and start the grind of 20 games in 22 weekends -- four exhibition games, 16 regular-season games and two bye weeks.

It's dangerous to form early conclusions, but in the year in which they've made more changes since 1981, when Bobby Beathard won a power struggle with Jack Pardee and persuaded owner Jack Kent Cooke to hire Joe Gibbs, the Redskins appear headed in the right direction.

In contrast to last year, when four key players (Mark Rypien, Darrell Green, Jim Lachey and top draft pick Desmond Howard) held out, they've had only one holdout, running back Ricky Ervins.

They also haven't been hit by the injuries that hindered them last year. Only one player, center Matt Elliott, appears lost for the season.

It helps that they won't have the exhausting London-Los Angeles exhibition road trip that sapped them last season. They refused to go to Berlin this year, and their two road exhibition games are at Miami and Pittsburgh.

A look at the team after the first two weeks:

The coach

Richie Petitbon appears to have made a smooth transition to head coach. He's definitely in command and doesn't appear intimidated by the Gibbs legend. He has kept the parts of the Gibbs program he likes (the practice schedule has been virtually identical) and changed the parts he doesn't (no sleeping in the office). He has an air of self-confidence. When he was asked whether he has settled in, he said, "I settled in April 18, 1938 (his birth date)." The big test comes with how he copes with a last-second loss in a big game.

The quarterback

No player appears to need training camp more than Mark Rypien. He's not The Natural. He needs the endless repetitions of training camp. He also appears to have adjusted to the new short-passing game. It's critical for him to rebound.

The offensive coordinator

Rod Dowhower has a good resume. He's been fired by Bob Irsay, played for Don Coryell and worked under Coryell, Bill Walsh and Gibbs. He'll call the plays, a job that Gibbs handled for the previous 12 years. His offense will mix some of the best of the Walsh and Gibbs philosophy, and his changes have been well-received.

The running game

This has been a big question mark. The Redskins were supposed to have a running back-by-committee system (nobody knows whether it'll work), but Reggie Brooks has been hurt, Ervins is holding out and Brian Mitchell and Earnest Byner have been stuffed in the scrimmages. Petitbon insists the running game just needs more time.

The rookies

None of the draft picks has been a complete bust and with a 53-man roster and a five-man practice squad, all of them figure to get a year to prove themselves. But with Tom Carter and Reggie Brooks ailing and with Sterling Palmer just coming back from an injury, there has been no early sensation, although Maryland's Frank Wycheck appears to be a steady performer who'll fit in.

The surprise

No camp is complete without a someone who seems to come out of nowhere. This year's candidate is wide receiver Mark Stock. He's 27, has bounced around two leagues and could have given up and gotten a real job by now. But he is proving he may have been right to stick it out because he's catching everything thrown his way.

The Heisman Trophy winner

Desmond Howard is being counted on for big things this year, but has been sidelined with a groin injury. He needs to recover, and soon.


The Redskins could be a surprise team because of their schedule. Nine games are against the Philadelphia Eagles (twice), Phoenix Cardinals (twice), Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Bucs. Going 8-1 against that group is possible. They also catch the Dallas Cowboys in the opener when Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- assuming they're playing by then -- figure to be rusty. If they upset the Cowboys and go 2-4 in the other six, they could be 11-5 and in the playoffs.

NOTES: The Redskins close training camp to fans this week and open the exhibition season next Monday night at RFK Stadium against the Cleveland Browns. . . . Tickets are still available.

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