It's only mid-May, but Redskins Park will take on more of an in-season atmosphere this week as veterans and rookies alike begin more intensive workouts and practice sessions, all in preparation for the 2005 season.
Under NFL-sanctioned Organized Team Activities (or OTAs), players come in several days a week and spend time on the practice fields working with coaches, learning play calls and developing bonds with teammates.
For players, the OTAs are voluntary, but coaches expect high attendance. It will be the first time for the coaching staff to watch offensive players go against defensive players, tinker with the lineup and evaluate players in simulated game situations, albeit on the practice fields.
"It'll be more competitive," head coach Joe Gibbs said last week. "What we have been limited to the last few weeks is walk-throughs. When we step up and go to OTAs, the good thing from an offense's perspective is that you'll get different fronts and looks from the defense. You'll have your good receivers going up against good corners now. You'll have offensive linemen getting work against defensive linemen."
League rules prohibit players from wearing pads, so there won't be any hitting. But Gibbs emphasized that he expects an increased level of intensity. Since late March, the team has held voluntary off-season workouts at Redskins Park.
"We'll have good work [in OTAs]," he said. "Obviously, a lot of it is mental. We'll get everything put in. We're going to go fast and hard with it. We'll try to do a lot more this year than last year, and at a faster pace.
"As a coach, you're kind of checking to see how fast guys pick things up--and also their physical conditioning. These are important times for us."
Gibbs said he may experiment with a number of changes--including the shotgun formation--to an offense that was ranked 30th in 2004. The Hall of Fame head coach has long resisted using the shotgun, but more defenses are using blitzes to pressure quarterbacks and the formation could give his passers an extra second to see the field and locate a receiver.
"Every year you change and add new stuff, and certainly we have this year," Gibbs said. "Shotgun is probably the thing that will stand out to most people. We'll be taking a long hard look at that."
The OTAs will also give coaches their first sustained look at rookies as they go up against more seasoned players. Since completing a post-draft Rookie Camp from April 29-May 1, many rookies have wrapped up their college courses by now and are eligible to participate in the sessions.
"It'll be an indoctrination for them," Gibbs said.
One potential distraction in the next few weeks could be the status of safety Sean Taylor. Gibbs has called Taylor's absence from voluntary workouts "disappointing," but adds that he expects the second-year player to be on hand for OTAs.
It's also uncertain whether Rod Gardner will be in attendance for the OTAs. With the fifth-year wide receiver granted permission to seek a trade, Gibbs has indicated it's unlikely that Gardner will return to the Redskins next season. Still, Gardner remains on the roster until a trade--or some other arrangement--can be consummated.
The Redskins will host their only full squad mini-camp on June 17-19 at Redskins Park. The mini-camp will be closed to the public.