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Making predictions about a team based on how it plays during exhibition games is as imprudent as rating a movie after viewing the trailer. Proof? Most gridiron pundits have forecast that the 1996 Redskins will be adequate, even playoff-bound. The 17-14 déjà vu–inducing opening stinker suggested another whole reality. What follows is a list of predictions from a Skins fan who, over the course of the Norv Turner era, has come to expect the worst and has rarely been disappointed.
THE REDSKINS WILL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
All the non-naysayers seem to have overlooked the fact that these are the very same Redskins that went 6-10 last year; Bill Brooks, a well-past-his-prime wide receiver who caught but one pass Sunday, was the only notable free-agent veteran signed by the team during the offseason. In this age of free agency, that degree of inertia can only mean that most people up high in the Skins organization are satisfied with the hand they’ve been dealt. The lyric “You gotta know when to fold ’em” comes to mind. Forget those postseason prognostications: Despite toiling in the weakest division in the NFL, even a 7-9 record would be worth celebrating.
THE WASHINGTON POST WILL SAY SOMETHING UNKIND ABOUT NORV TURNER
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A real shocker, for sure. As head coach, Turner’s record (9-23) is worse than Milli Vanilli’s Greatest Hits, but for whatever reason the Post keeps planting its proverbial lips on the nude emperor’s buttcheek. Sunday’s Post Magazine cover story showed Turner to be “the sort of neighbor who borrows your car and returns it with a full tank of gas.” Uh, point being? Jimmy Johnson seems the sort of neighbor who would borrow your car and get a DWI, but what Redskins fan wouldn’t rather have him, not Turner, behind the wheel of the home team? The Philly game featured the very same careless clock management, misuse of timeouts, hyperquestionable play-calling, and downright inattention (10 men on the field during special teams plays, etc.) that have made Turner’s tenure so frustrating for the team’s followers. But the homer-hankies are still waving at the Post, where reporters and columnists refuse to place blame on the coach come Monday. Richard Justice argued, quite bizarrely, that Turner coached a whale of a game, and that the team only lost because his players “couldn’t execute the basics” (no coach involvement there, right?). “Turner searched and searched,” Justice wrote, “and if it wasn’t an offensive lineman letting a defender slip through, it was a wide receiver dropping a ball.” It’s a rebuilding thing, Michael Wilbon asserted in his column, neglecting to mention that Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes completely overhauled the Eagles’ lineup as soon as he was hired last year and still got that team to the playoffs in his rookie season. Rhodes’ Eagles won more games last year than divisionmate Turner has won in his first two. (The unending empathy for Turner goes right to the top. Post sports editor George Solomon sought out Turner after the postgame press conference last Sunday just to give him a consoling handshake.) But as cozy as the paper’s relationship with Turner is now, that nary-a-discouraging-word tack is going to be impossible to keep in place much longer. The protracted quarterback controversy deflected attention away from the administrative problems within the organization, but now that Gus Frerotte has been picked as the starter, the Redskins fans have gotta hate somebody. A couple of weeks from now, when his team continues to head south, look for the Post to turn on Turner like an overbred Doberman, leaving him with fewer friends in this town than Dickie Morris.
NORV TURNER WILL COME UP WITH A NEW QUOTE
Q: Following a close loss at home to the Eagles, Norv Turner proclaimed, “We’re a better team than we showed today,” in his postgame press conference. What’s the year?
D: All of the above
Yup, it’s been a durable canard. Norv’s shtick has gotten so old that when he launched into the routine after the Philly game, the press room emptied like a frat party when the last keg gets floated.
HEATH SHULER WILL BE BACK BEHIND CENTER SOON
Look for the Blunderkind to take snaps again before the bye week, but not because he earned another starting assignment or because Gus will play his way out of the starting job. No, Heath will showcase his inadequacy one more time because the Skins’ current QB is destined to be knocked out of consciousness by an opposing right tackle any game now. Against Philly, Frerotte took more hits than a Pamela Anderson web site. Only bones of Kevlar would explain how Gus could absorb so much punishment and remain standing. All the offensive line’s projected starters were in the lineup, so things aren’t likely to get better for Skins’ signal callers. Helloooo, Heath! Given Shuler’s proven fragility, look for Trent Green to take snaps before too long, too.
GUT-CHECK TIME WILL COME
“Bigger is better” has been the buzz about offensive lines ever since the Hogs. This current version of the Skins, with all the projected starters healthy enough to play, might be bad enough to make coaches rethink that adage. Tre Johnson isn’t good-big, he’s fat-big, which probably explains why he’s too slow and too often injured to make the impact he was supposed to make when he got here. Shar Pourdanesh, who tips ’em at 318, wasn’t even quick enough to hold Eagles DE Mike Mamula.
MICHAEL WESTBROOK WILL GET IN A GAME
When hell gets a hockey team, that is. What is the deal with Westbrook? Against Philly, special teamer Matt Vanderbeek took the field even after separating his shoulder, and Darryl Pounds, already playing with an injured back, stayed in the game after taking a knee through the facemask that broke his nose in three places. Pounds played the second half with stitches in his face, the nerves in his schnozz deadened by injection (“It wasn’t Novocain, but it was something that they put in there,” Pounds said after the game, like some character from North Dallas Forty). Westbrook wandered along the sidelines in a hockey jersey before the game, and his phantom knee ailment wasn’t evident when he ran on the field to get TV time with a pile of celebrating Skins after Terry Allen’s touchdown. Unbelievably, Westbrook had the balls to show up at practice last week in a brand-new Italian sports car, though he hasn’t really earned a dime of what he paid for that vehicle since signing with the Redskins. What gender would Bill Parcells ascribe Westbrook?
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: MATT TURK
The Skins’ punter faced a phalanx of reporters following the Philly game, thanks to the offensive unit’s general irrelevance to the day’s proceedings (Terry Allen, for all his total yards, really had just two big runs and about 20 forgettable ones). As one press horde walked away from his locker and another approached, Turk realized the peculiarity of a guy in his position getting so many interview requests. “It’s nice to finally get to talk to the press on a day when I didn’t shank the ball,” he laughed. “But when so many reporters want to talk to the punter, well, that’s probably not a good sign.”
TOAST OF THE TOWN: TOM CARTER
Tom Carter got burned all day long Sunday, most often by the appropriately named (Irving) Fryar. Unless a Redskin pass rush comes out of nowhere or Darrell Green starts looking vulnerable, look for the singeings of Carter to continue.
MOST IMPROVED REDSKIN: REGGIE BROOKS
By cutting him, the team guaranteed that Brooks, one of many can’t-miss-kids who have missed from Charley Casserly’s recent drafts, will not post numbers as bad as those he posted in 1995, when he picked up an amazing minus two yards rushing on the season.