Mike Shanahan lays down the law
Early in minicamp, Mike Shanahan read out a list of rules to his players in a meeting room, covering behavior on and off the practice field. Sunday, when his team was out on the field for a final time, he reviewed the rules -- "reemphasized some of the finer points," one player joked -- and let the Redskins know how they'd done.
"He was telling us, I have a list of 10 guys -- he didn't give any names or numbers or anything - he said there was 10 guys who didn't do this, there were three guys who didn't do this," Will Robinson recalled after the final session. "Apparently, if you don't [follow the rules], you've got to condition, starting next minicamp.....You'll catch yourself running after practice. He just wants you to be accountable and do it right the first time, so you don't have to be punished for not doing it."
So, what are these rules? Some are basic: Run on and off the field. Run to and from the huddle. Run five yards past the ball during drills. If you're a running back, continue the play all the way down the field.
Some are a bit less typical: if you're not on the field, you stand completely behind the ropes, and completely behind the lines. And some are a bit surprising: Shanahan apparently dinged guys for double-parking at Redskins Park, and for parking in handicapped spots.
"I started thinking to myself, like, did I double park today? I didn't think I double parked," Mike Williams said with a chuckle after practice. "I'm dead serious. He asked guys to do the simple things. If he asks you to run off the field, he expects you to run off the field. He's just setting a standard, and saying hey guys, this is what I'm talking about, and so this is what we've got to clean up as a team."
Now, these are things that are very easy to talk about, and write about, during April. Does this have any impact at all on the football field? Who knows. But the last two years weren't exactly known as a time of great discipline and rule-following uniformity at Redskins Park, and you can bet that players are noticing the change.
"He sets the rules, you follow them. That's basically it," Mike Sellers said. "It's the way it is. It's structure. It's not just one guy is gonna do what he wants to do. Everybody has to follow the same structure. There's no more individuals on this team."
Sellers, it goes without saying, was one of the most outspoken players about double-standards in the past, so I asked whether this was a change from the past. Sellers -- the Skins' longest-tenured player -- simply laughed.
"Come on, don't go there with me," he said. Translation: heck yeah, it's a change.
"If he tells us to take our shoes off before we go in the building, he expects us to do it, because he's the head coach and he's in charge," Kedric Golston said. "Just small things that you wouldn't think matter, but in the long run it does. Touch all lines. Stay behind the lines. Don't double park. Run on and off the field. Just things that you should do....
"We're just trying to get better right now," Golston continued. "We're trying to win some football games. So whatever that takes. If he tells us to be out here on the turf at 2 in the morning and it's gonna help us win, we'll do it."
So that's the pliable situation that Shanahan is largely facing. A lot of these guys are pretty sick of being laughed at. Maybe they're willing to listen to a coach as he ticks off their offenses -- even their parking violations -- if it'll help them win football games.
"I mean, he's got a standard, a way of doing things: doing it with excellence, wanting to be perfect," Derrick Dockery said. "If you have certain rules and you do things a certain way, I think it can transfer over to the field."
"He's just laying the law," said Willie Parker, who said there were "most definitely" more rules here than in Pittsburgh. "He's definitely got rules, and he expects you to follow them....He wants us to do it his way, and eventually it's gonna better the team. I have a great feeling for that. He wants to run a tight organization and I'm all for it."
Shanahan isn't exactly Jim Zorn in his press conferences. He probably won't volunteer incredible details about his coaching habits or his plans. Zorn, you'll recall, highlighted his new fashion rules last training camp by doing a fashion show on what was permitted and what was not. That isn't Shanahan's style. Still, I asked him about this disciplined approach his players had mentioned.
"It's doing the little things the right way," he said. "My job is to keep them accountable. Their job is to do what they're supposed to do. That's the nature of a team. And when your players trust each other, you've got a chance to do something special. If your players don't trust each other, the chances of winning a Super Bowl aren't very good. You may win a playoff game, but at least the Super Bowl teams that I've been on that have won, it's been a very strong trust.
"I've been to a lot of championships where we have not won the Super Bowl, and that trust factor wasn't as strong as when we did win the Super Bowl. So they've got to believe in each other, they've got to count on each other to get the job done when the tough times are apparent, and hopefully we can accomplish that."
The AP's Joseph White asked if this wasn't a contradiction, talking about trust while also keeping a list of players who break various rules.
"Just the opposite," Shanahan said. "Just the opposite. What you have to do as a head football coach is you have to make people accountable. That's my job. It's also their job to understand what it takes to help this organization be successful. And my job is to make sure that everyone's accountable to each other....The reason why you do have rules - and we don't have a lot of rules - is to make them, everybody, beat to the same drum. And if you don't, usually you're not very good."
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