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Redskins Open Camp With a Fresh Look, Fresh Approach

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Aspiration, inspiration, exhilaration and perspiration will mark the opening of Redskins training camp on Thursday.

New coaches and new players want desperately to erase the old – the 4-12 mark of 2009, the two-year absence from the playoffs and a pair of last-place finishes in the NFC East.

There's good news and bad news even before the team hits the field.

The good? Albert Haynesworth is in town after an off-season spent away from the facility. The big defensive lineman appeared to be lighter than last season, met with head coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and will practice if he passes conditioning tests.

The bad news? Guard Mike Williams will miss the season due to a pulmonary embolism.

Not much carries over. There's a new quarterback in Donovan McNabb and a new offensive philosophy. The Redskins will line up defensively as a 3-4 team bent on creating havoc and turnovers, long missing from their arsenal.

Here's a look at the offense, defense and special teams:

-- OFFENSE

"We've always had a great running game," Shanahan said bluntly, referring to his 14 years with the Denver Broncos.

No kidding. The Broncos led the NFL once, finished second twice and never ranked below 12th in rushing during Shanahan's tenure, with an array of backs surpassing 1,000 yards.

Expect Clinton Portis to start. Expect competition from Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Ryan Torain.

All of them can run but certain aspects of Portis' skill set set him apart, said assistant head coach/running backs Bobby Turner, who coached Portis in Denver.

"He plays without the ball. I'm not going to be negative and mention any other players' names I've coached elsewhere or who are in the league but Portis plays without the football," Turner said. "He'll do the dirty work. He'll block. He'll carry out the fakes. That's the part I loved, that jumped out at me when he was in college. Everybody wants the ball but when there's a 300-pound lineman in the hole, he'll stick his face in there."

The offensive line, minus Williams, gets a reshuffling. No. 1 pick Trent Williams will be the starter at left tackle and newly acquired Jammal Brown, a two-time Pro Bowl choice with the New Orleans Saints, starts on the right side. Derrick Dockery returns at left guard, as does Casey Rabach at center. Artis Hicks moves from right tackle to right guard.

"The biggest challenge going in is to develop the continuity and chemistry on the offensive line that we need to be successful. Every great offensive line has that," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "Obviously you can put together a bunch of good players and we've done a great job of accumulating good players but developing the continuity and familiarity with each other is going to be very important."

Tight end looks sound, with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, and the Redskins plan packages to involve both at the same time.

Among the receivers, the coaches want to see more from Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and have a number of other, older veterans (Joey Galloway, Bobby Wade) pushing for spots. Santana Moss also returns.

McNabb, with his track record of successes with the Philadelphia Eagles, quickly cemented his place after being acquired in a trade.

"What Donovan has done is come in and work extremely hard. Everyone can see he's a natural leader," Shanahan said.

-- DEFENSE

Haynesworth's role will evolve as he catches up on the work he missed. He's a better fit at end than at nose tackle. Maake Kemoeatu's return from Achilles tendon surgery a year ago may well give the team the required interior space-eater. Bet on Adam Carriker as the starting left end.

The Redskins will carry a number of linebackers and many will be counted on to do double duty. London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh are the key returning veterans and Lorenzo Alexander is also making the move from the d-line to the 'backers.

"The good thing about having a 3-4 defense is you have more linebackers (dressed on game day) and those guys are your core special teams players. The more 'backers, the better. But I'm being selfish," linebackers coach Lou Spanos said.

Brian Orakpo, splitting time last year at defensive end and linebacker, will rush the passer more. He led all rookies in sacks with 11 in 2009. "We'll have some things devised for him," Spanos said.

Look for a more aggressive secondary.

"We're much more multiple in coverage schemes, from the little bit I've watched of last year. We're going to be more versatile. What will that amount to in production? We'd like to have a lot more takeaways, so that's our primary emphasis," defensive backs coach Bob Slowik said.

The Redskins' 12 takeaways last year, worst in the NFL, won't be acceptable. Safety LaRon Landry's role will change to play to his strengths.

"LaRon will be involved at the line of scrimmage a lot more than he was last year. I know that for a fact," Slowik said. "That's where he seems to have a comfort level. It doesn't mean he won't be playing deep coverage but he'll be blitzing more probably than he has in the past. The safeties are going to be involved a lot more in blitzing and underneath coverage."

Cornerback Carlos Rogers went without an interception for the first time in his five-year career but Slowik said he expected better.

"If you stand there and throw the ball in drills, he can catch the ball as well as anybody. The more opportunities you get with your hands on the ball, that's what it is. He's got to get his hands on the ball maybe way more than he has," Slowik said. "I don't think there's a hands issue for him."

-- SPECIAL TEAMS

One kicker. One punter. An inexperienced long-snapper. And no clarity yet about return specialists, which was a weakness. This will take some work.

"We've got a bunch of guys to give a shot," special teams coordinator Danny Smith said. "You take Devin Thomas, you take Ryan Torrain, (rookie) Keiland Williams on the kickoffs. (Rookie Brandon) Banks, (rookie Terrence) Austin, Moss, (cornerback DeAngelo) Hall on punts. We've got more than we've ever had. Hopefully, we've got the right guys."

Kicker Graham Gano appeared in four games last season and made all four of his field goal tries, with one blocked extra point. That is the sum total of his NFL experience. Punter Josh Bidwell, signed as a free agent, missed last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a hip injury. He's going into his 11th year and will get the first look as the holder for Gano.

The long snapper, Nick Sundberg, had a brief stint on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad last year as an undrafted free agent. He replaces Ethan Albright. He has never played in an NFL game but handled snapping duties at the University of California for four seasons.

-- SUMMARY

During his long stint in Denver, Shanahan produced two titles, three appearances in conference championship games, seven playoff berths and nine winning seasons.

After a year off, in which he traveled to numerous NFL and college camps to add to his bank of knowledge, he's again ready to apply what he knows.

"If you've got a philosophy and a belief, you stick to that," he said. "We will do the things that I've done in the past that give us the best chance to win."

Starting now.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at *Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.*

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