By Mark F. Gray
Mike Shanahan has not given too much credit to his team since he took the reigns of the Washington Redskins. That was, however, until during his first regular season Monday press conference. It was a window into the soul of a team in transition.
“I like our approach as a team right now,” he says.
In the end they beat the Dallas Cowboys thanks to two plays at the end of each half. The D’Angelo Hall strip of Tashard Choice, fumble recovery, and return for their only touchdown was testament to the effort Shanahan has demanded of his team. When Brian Orakpo induced the holding penalty on Alex Barron to end the game that spoke to Shanahan’s ability to teach his team to finish.
“We talk about playing the whole 60 minutes,” Shanahan says. “[Orakpo] doesn’t draw that penalty without maximum effort on the final play”.
This may be what ultimately determines the fate of the Redskins this year. This was the type of game that marked past failed seasons of years gone by. They would not have been in physical condition to make the one final play and would have been so undisciplined that they would have lost the battle of penalties. Now after the war of wills between Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth during training there is no doubt who rules the locker room which has set the tone for the rest of the season.
Shanahan set the tone by stressing the attention to detail which was an afterthought during the Joe Gibbs next generation and Jim Zorn eras. All too often there were losses that slipped through the cracks like this one as players were lauded for their efforts. Countless times over the last five years fans in the District listened to excuses about “heroic” efforts in losing where coaches seemed preoccupied with massaging egos that cost them the respect of the locker room.
He admitted during the final week of preseason that part of being a good NFL coach is being liked by the players. But unlike the two predecessors Shanahan has seemed to earn his respect first and with the victory over the Cowboys it appears that the team has bought into his way. A reporter from the local NBC affiliate asked if he had a sense that the team had finally bought into “the Shanahan Way”.
“First off I hope the Shanahan way means more offense,” he quipped.
The veterans who have been through the coaching changes, front office gaffes, and gut wrenching losses have been looking for a reason to believe in a head coach as their leader. None will openly admit that Gibbs was a let down his second time around but there were strategy decisions that left them wondering. Some have been open about their absence of confidence in Zorn and how his style gave them no reason to believe they could be a factor in the NFC.
However, with Shanahan as the architect of an ugly victory on opening night it has given them a swagger that will at least make them a factor in the NFC East.
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