4 Washington Redskins
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Can two strong-willed men share a team without driving each other
By Josh Elliott
His thinning hair is flecked with gray, and wrinkles mark the corners of his eyes and mouth. He has long looked the part, but now more than ever Jeff George is central casting's answer to the call for a veteran quarterback.
During his 11-year career George has always had the swagger, always had the 70-yard missile at the ready -- and always worn out his welcome. Since 1996 he has played for four teams, and at every stop he has clashed with coaches or gotten caught up in a quarterback controversy. After he replaced injured starter Brad Johnson last year, George somewhat peacefully coexisted with coach Norv Turner but, after Turner was fired with three games remaining, sparks flew between the quarterback and replacement coach Terry Robiskie.
This year George -- who won the starting job by default after Johnson signed with the Buccaneers in the off-season -- has been asked to fill a new role: a wizened leader content to play a supporting role in new coach Marty Schottenheimer's controlled-passing, power-running offense. George will also have to learn to play nice with the famously rigid Schottenheimer, whom meddling owner Daniel Snyder coaxed from retirement with a guaranteed four-year, $10 million deal and a promise that the 57-year-old coach would have total control of all football decisions.
"When people say that Marty and I are a bad fit, I don't even pay attention," George says. "I'll be perfectly comfortable handing the ball to Stephen Davis or hitting a back coming out of the backfield. Marty and I have talked a lot about what he expects from me, and I'm fine with that."
"Whether or not Jeff has taken heat in the past is irrelevant to me," Schottenheimer says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I couldn't care less about what other people have said. Before minicamp we talked, and I said that every time he made the right decision to dump the ball off, he'd get a point; every time he threw it away downfield, I'd get a point. He struggled early, but eventually we stopped counting when his lead was 17-5 and growing."
That certainly makes for a pretty picture in August, but let's see if the two men can coexist during the ups and downs of a 16-game season. By the end of last season George was reportedly diagramming his own plays on the sideline against the Steelers and then was benched by Robiskie for the season finale the following week.
Not that anyone on the team longs for the past regime; in fact, it's nearly impossible to unearth a single fond memory of the Turner era. "Last year was a complete circus, full of distractions, where no one was accountable for being on time or being up on the playbook," says linebacker Shawn Barber, echoing the sentiments of many veterans. "Without any discipline -- when players know they can do whatever they want and not be held responsible -- you've got real trouble."
Michael Westbrook is more pointed in his criticism. "The last couple years were ridiculous," says the seventh-year wideout, his voice rising in anger. "It was like some coaches had no idea what they were doing. I went to [Turner] and said, 'I want to be the man for you.' He just said, 'I don't work like that.' I was shocked, just shocked. What a joke. I'm so excited for Marty's offense. Jeff and I will go crazy."
The infusion of hope brought by Schottenheimer is tempered by the bleak reality that the team will pay this year for mismanaging the salary cap in 2000. Snyder spent almost $100 million in salary and bonuses for a win-now team that went 8-8 and left Schottenheimer with a disastrous cap situation. Thirty players were whacked from last year's roster to clear cap space and rid the locker room of deadwood. The Redskins will have to rely on rookies and retreads working for close to the NFL minimum, and depth is a concern throughout the lineup.
The Redskins moved to address that problem at quarterback by signing Tony Banks, who had been cut by the Cowboys in the preseason. Last Friday, in his first exhibition game with Washington, Banks relieved George (who had missed almost three weeks of camp with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder) and hit 12 of 15 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns.
On a team on which good help is hard to find, victories won't come easily either.
Issue date: September 3, 2001