'A tough thing to balance': Redskins, rest of NFL, open practice under new league rules Print
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Thursday, 10 May 2007 14:10
NFL Headline News

 ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Unable to find an open receiver, Jason Campbell scrambled a few yards for a touchdown. When he returned to the huddle, he pounded fists with assistant coach Al Saunders, who greeted the quarterback with the words: ``Outstanding, outstanding.''
And it all happened in full view of seven journalists.
The scoop of the century? Hardly. It was, however, a noteworthy moment in professional football reporting. Under a new rule announced this week, the Redskins and all NFL teams have to open at least one-third of their spring practices - officially known as ``organized team activities'' - to reporters.
It was a bit of an adjustment for Joe Gibbs, who freely admits to being paranoid when it comes to exposing any part of his game plan to outsiders. After all, this is a coach who once said he would have to change the entire plan for a minicamp practice if reporters were going to be watching.
``It is a tough thing to balance,'' Gibbs said. ``You've got a lot of people in committees and they're coming up with new rules, and they want to have as much open access as you can. As a coach, obviously lots of times you like everybody to really concentrate, so you like having times when you're by yourself.''
The league tweaks its media policy every year, but the latest changes are extensive. They include more access to assistant coaches, an overhaul of the weekly in-season injury reports and even a deadline for teams arriving for the Super Bowl. The rules are designed to lift a veil of secrecy surrounding some teams while giving the league even more exposure.
In a memo that accompanied the new policy, commissioner Roger Goodell told the teams that the changes will help ``ensure that information from the people most directly involved in the game, the players and coaches, is widely available to our fans.'' The commissioner added that the changes are aimed to getting all 32 clubs to ``cooperate with the media at the same high level.''
``It's very gratifying that commissioner Goodell understands the importance of access for all media and is following through on his promise to open practices, training camp and the locker rooms on a more consistent basis,'' said David Elfin of the Washington Times, who led the fight for more access during his recent term as president of the Professional Football Writers of America.
The changes will affect several teams more than they will the Redskins. Coaches notorious for keeping the tightest possible control on the press - including New England's Bill Belichick, the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin and the New York Jets' Eric Mangini - will be required to make their assistant coaches available on a regular basis for the first time. Mangini will have to start publishing a legitimate depth chart, making it clear who are his starters and who are his backups.
Gibbs said he doesn't have restrictions on his assistant coaches, although some have been less eager to talk than others. Defensive line coach Greg Blache, who is both colorful and blunt when assessing players, essentially stopped speaking to reporters a year ago, so the media will be eagerly awaiting his verdict on how the line will rebound after last year's difficult season.
As for Thursday's practice, there wasn't much riveting action. The spring practices, conducted without pads, are essentially used to teach the players the game plan that will be refined and revised once training camp begins in late July. Saunders spent as much time explaining the plays to the offense as his players did running them.
There's also a long-held understanding that not everything seen can be reported, especially anything that might give away a team's strategy. It's OK to tell the world about Campbell making a nice scramble, but it would be taboo, for example, to describe a sequence in which the quarterback lined up as a tight end and caught a pass as part of a trick play. (No, that didn't actually happen.)
Even so, Gibbs remains cautious. Once the regular season comes, it's unlikely he'll allow reporters to watch anything much more than the calisthenics and individual drills at the start of each practice. He also feels that more people watching leads to more distractions for the players, which is one reason he didn't allow cameras at Thursday's practice - as was his prerogative under the new rules.
The practice also happened to fall on a wonderfully sunny spring day when it was tempting to go do something other than watch offseason football. That led Gibbs to make a few jokes about the new guidelines after he walked off the field.
``It's going to be a real downer for you guys,'' he said with a big laugh. ``I have to be out here every day - you guys are kind of stupid. If you keep pushing for more open stuff, you're going to be here all day long, all night.''
 

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