Redskins' Saunders defends the 700-page play book Print
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Wednesday, 15 August 2007 11:18
NFL Headline News

 ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Al Saunders took a reporter's pen and notepad and started drawing a play.
``This is why it just cracks me up when you guys make fun of that play book,'' he said, peppering the yellow page with arrows, circles and numbers.
When he finished, Saunders pointed to the numbers associated with the patterns and said he could teach anyone to run pass routes in his offense in 20 minutes.
``If you can count from 0 to 9,'' the Washington Redskins' associate head coach said, ``you can be a wide receiver in our offense.''
The phrase ``700-page play book'' became synonymous with the Redskins' offensive struggles during last year's 5-11 season, and Saunders wanted to set the record straight - his schemes aren't that complicated.
The play book is indeed huge, thicker than any Harry Potter tome. The pages aren't numbered, but 700 is a conservative estimate.
Inside the heavy black binder are tabs with labels such as ``number system,'' ``huddle procedure,'' and ``personnel groupings.''
There are also diagrams of plays. Lots and lots of plays. Perhaps as many as 1,800 plays are possible in Saunders' scheme.
``What it is, is a textbook,'' Saunders said. ``A reference manual for the coaches as well as the players. It details what we do at every practice. Everything is detailed ad nauseam, so there is no misunderstanding in anything we do.''
Saunders has created a guide that literally covers any scenario, something a player who daydreamed through a meeting can browse through late at night. A simple running play takes up three pages because it is diagrammed with different formations, blocking schemes and against eight different defenses.
As complicated as that sounds, each player needs to learn only his role and recognize it when hears it called by quarterback Jason Campbell.
``I wish that I could tell you that it was hard,'' tight end Chris Cooley said. ``But Al's been here a year, and I can run every single position on our offense. I probably couldn't make all the right reads as a quarterback, but I don't think it's hard. I know the plays. They don't change. They're constant.''
Still, it did take a year for Cooley to feel that way.
``Last year, when we called a play, people would break the huddle looking at each other, wondering 'Where am I supposed to line up, what am I supposed to do?''' running back Clinton Portis said after a recent practice. ``They broke the huddle today, running to their spots. The motions, the shifts, everything looked good.''
Added Saunders: ``There's more playing and reacting, and less thinking about what they have to do.''
This, then, is supposed to be the year the offense produces the way it did when Saunders was offensive coordinator for the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-05. He feels the Redskins don't have far to go.
Defnding last year's output, he noted Washington was fourth in rushing in the league, allowed only 19 sacks (fourth fewest in franchise history) and committed only 17 turnovers (second fewest in the league).
What was missing was a consistent, downfield passing attack, partially attributed to the midseason switch in quarterbacks from Mark Brunell to Campbell.
``What we need to be is 10 percent more efficient in our passing game,'' Saunders said. ``That's when we can become a whole offense.''
Campbell, then, becomes the key. While Saunders explained the simplicity of his schemes, he always pointed out the one exception, the player who has to know everything.
``It's hard for the quarterback,'' Campbell said. ``The quarterback has to be a smart guy.''
Saunders also noted that if the offense was so complicated, then at least 10 NFL teams wouldn't be running at least some version of it. The system, particularly the use of numbers for the pass routes, originated in the 1960s at San Diego State with renowned coach Don Coryell, who would sometimes get players a week before the season started and needed a simple way to teach them the plays.
Back then, Saunders said Coryell didn't have a play book back then. Today, Saunders gives his players an encyclopedia.
``We don't have enough meeting time to learn everything about this game,'' Saunders said. ``We don't have enough time on the field. What we need is the resources to make you the best football player you can possibly be.
``What we're trying to do with this book, is we're trying to give them all the answers, because every student needs to make an 'A' in our class.''
 

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