Every year at this time in late July when Redskins training camp opens, I like to look for visual signs in the local papers, any clue, as to how I think the team will do for the upcoming season. What do I know? Still, it’s fun. I don’t trust the coddling, enabling Washington Post sports writers when it comes to covering the Redskins so I look for my own signs. In years past I’ve seen pictures of players lounging in portable water tubs after practice – not good I always thought. Other years it’s been the expanding waistlines and guts of the players – not good either – where’s the off-season conditioning? Other years it’s been players standing around signing autographs for the fans – another distraction that takes away from the hard work on the practice field, but then again maybe I’m out of touch because I think most NFL training camps are open to the public these days. One year when Marty Schottenheimer was coach I saw a picture of players doing the Oklahoma drill – an old school contact drill that tests players’ toughness and conditioning during the heat and grind of August. Good, very good, I thought. The team got off to a slow start that year, losing its first 5 games, but they finished strong to go 8-8. Unfortunately, Schottenheimer was here for only one season due to a power struggle with Dan Snyder. Telling.
So when training camped opened this week for the 2016 campaign, I did my usual perusing through the papers. The first was a picture of Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy running basic quarterback rollout drills, not bad I thought, but maybe a little window dressing for the fans. Then, yesterday while on the Metro coming home from work, I saw it, the telling sign – Coach Gruden smiling on the practice field like a casual walk in the park, joking with the players who were nonchalantly doing stretches on the field – smiles on their faces as well. Not good. The coddling Washington media will tell you the Redskins are heading in the right direction, they’re ‘improving’, they’re settled at quarterback, they have a solid GM, the players are solid, yada, yada, yada. Yet if you’re a legitimate NFL coach, you’re not your players’ best buddy. In fact, you probably don’t want your players to like you. You want them to be working hard (cursing you out in silent struggle while laboring for the next hard earned water break). But not smiling. The Belichicks, the Coughlins of the NFL, they don’t smile, and they don’t chum up to their players. Yet they are respected. And they win. We’ll see.