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The Redskins' only training camp with Vince Lombardi started 49 years ago

Associated Press

The Redskins' only training camp with Vince Lombardi started 49 years ago

It was on July 9, 1969, that Redskins were to start training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For months, the Redskins players looked towards that date with a mix of hope and fear. The hope was that Vince Lombardi, who had been hired as head coach in February of that year, could lift the moribund Washington franchise to glory. The fear came from what they had heard of the methods he would use to do so. As cornerback Pat Fischer said, “Lombardi was preceded by his reputation.”


That reputation came from comments such as those made by Henry Jordan, a player for Lombardi in Green Bay.


“He treats us all the same,” said Jordan of his coach. “Like dogs.”


Especially notorious was the grass drill. The players would run in place, knees pumping up high and then, on Lombardi’s command, flop onto the ground. Failure to spring back up immediately and resume the fervent churning of the legs would usually result in a public tongue-lashing by the coach. In Carlisle he ran the grass drill unmercifully, cursing at the non-performers so loudly that Dickinson secretaries working near the field complained to the dean of the college.


“There are two ways of motivation,” said Sam Huff, who had come out of retirement to become a player-coach under Lombardi. “One is through fear and the other is through group motivation. Lombardi motivated through fear.”


A big fear that players had was for their jobs. Being cut was always a clear and present danger for those who did not do things Lombardi’s way. Even being a recent first-round draft pick didn’t grant any immunity. When fullback Ray McDonald showed up late for the team’s first meeting in Carlisle, Lombardi stopped speaking and asked the third-year player what his name was. “Ray McDonald,” the player said. Those were his last words as a Redskin as Lombardi announced to the team right then and there that McDonald had been cut. From then on, job security dictated that one should keep one’s watch set to Lombardi Time, which was ten minutes ahead of Eastern Time.


One player whose job appeared to be safe was quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Not only did he have Hall of Fame talent, but also he fully bought into Lombardi’s methods. The signal caller who NFL Films’ John Facenda once described as possessing “a hairline going north and a belt line going south” had once blown off his head coach’s suggestion that he improve his conditioning, telling Otto Graham, “I don’t throw the ball with my stomach.” Now, however, he was flopping on the Carlisle turf with the rest of them.


Nobody was spared the wrath of Lombardi, not even his own flesh and blood. His brother Joe had recently been hired by a sporting goods company and thought he would take advantage of his family connection to bring a couple of the company’s executives out onto the practice field. Lombardi ejected all three of them, using more of that language that made the secretaries blush.


As players such as McDonald and some rookies who packed up and bolted in the middle of the night fell by the wayside, replacements had to be found. Vince Lombardi wasn’t a mere raving tyrant; he had an uncanny knack for finding talent. The coach was chatting with Jurgensen after the first practice when Lombardi pointed to a rookie running back out of Kansas State. “See that [rookie] over there in the overalls?” said the coach of the eighth-round draft pick. “When the rest of these guys are gone, he’ll still be here.” Lombardi was pointing at Larry Brown.


As camp wore on Brown continued to impress the coach with his ability, but the back always seemed to be a half step slow getting off the ball. “Does that Brown hear,” Lombardi asked one night at a coaches’ meeting. They decided to find out and, sure enough, a test revealed that Brown was quite deaf in one ear. 


The team fitted Brown’s helmet with a hearing aid that transferred sound from the side of his head with the bad ear into the good ear and the results were immediate and impressive. A couple of days later Brown scored two touchdowns in the exhibition season opener at RFK Stadium. A few days after that, assistant coach George Dickson saw Lombardi with his arm draped around Brown’s shoulders. Later on, knowing that Lombardi doesn’t show such affection to just anyone, Dickson went up to Brown and said, “Son, you’ve got this ball club made.” Brown went on to rush for 888 yards in his rookie season and 5,875 in his seven-year career.


With Brown and a fit Jurgensen in starring roles, Lombardi led the Redskins to a 7-5-2 record, their first winning record since 1955. 


Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler



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After years of neglect on defensive line, Redskins continue smart moves with Matt Ioannidis deal

USA Today Sports

After years of neglect on defensive line, Redskins continue smart moves with Matt Ioannidis deal

For two decades the Redskins bounced back and forth between neglect and negligence along their defensive line. 

Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, Washington hadn't selected a defensive lineman in the first round since the 1990s. The team just did not invest in the draft in the interior of their defensive line. During that time, there were some big-name free agent acquisitions up front, but those didn't work out either. In fact, the Albert Haynesworth contract might be the worst in the history of the sport. 

The result, largely, was bad play along the defensive front and an inability to stop the run, and that largely coincided with losing football teams. There is a direct correlation. 

In the last two seasons, however, the Redskins dramatically changed their approach.

In 2017, Washington selected defensive tackle Jonathan Allen out of Alabama in the first round. In 2018, Washington again took an Alabama defensive linemen in the first round in Daron Payne. The team also added fifth-rounder Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech. 

This week news emerged from Ashburn that the 'Skins took care of another defensive linemen, 2016 fifth-rounder Matt Ioannidis, with a three-year contract extension with $14 million guaranteed. 

Of all the moves to bolster the defensive line, the new deal for Ioannidis should make 'Skins fans the most excited. 

When Allen slipped to middle of the first round in 2017, it was a no-brainer to pick him. When the Redskins added Payne last season, he was the highest player on their draft board at a position of need. 

Those moves were good, but obvious. 

Inking Ioannidis to a contract extension was anything but obvious, and that's why this move looks so good. 

This is a late-round pick out of Temple, hardly a football factory like Alabama. Ioannidis was cut as a rookie after his first training camp, and the team signed him back to their practice squad. Eventually, he made the active roster in 2016 and played sparingly in parts of 10 games. He finished that year with seven tackles. 

Then, something happened.

The Redskins developed a late-round pick, and while Ioannidis deserves a ton of credit for turning his body into 300 lbs. of bull-rushing muscle, the organization deserves credit too, particularly defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. 

In his second NFL season, Ioannidis logged 4.5 sacks an 27 tackles in 14 games. Last year, he got 7.5 sacks and 31 tackles in 14 games. 2018 marked the real turning point for Ioannidis. Early on, he ws a beast, and his sack-per-snap numbers ranked among the best in the league. 

Injuries have been an issue for the 25-year-old, but beyond that, Washington was wise to lock Ioannidis up now. 

2019 would be the final season on his rookie deal, and if he performs similarly this year as he did last year, his potential free agent market would have been hot. If he improves this fall, Ioannidis would have commanded a significantly higher deal next offseason than the one he just signed to stay in Washington. 

There's also the precedent that the Redskins front office can identify their valuable young talent and take care of those players. The last two offseasons, Washington has let a number of draft picks walk in free agency. Players like Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith, Ryan Grant, Trent Murphy and Spencer Long are just some of the names. Getting an extension done with Ioannidis reinforces for other players in the 'Skins locker room that the money will come if they work hard and play well. 

Don't forget either that it was head coach Jay Gruden that pushed hard for the team to draft Matt Ioannidis back in 2016. While the head coach faces significant pressure this fall to find a playoff bid, this is a good example of the coach's personnel acumen. 

There's also some long-term roster construction in play. 

The Redskins have three more years of contractual control for 24-year-old Allen, and four more years for the 21-year-old Payne. Now, Ioannidis is under contract for four more seasons. 

That's three high impact players on the defensive line, all under 25 years old, that will be in Burgundy and Gold through at least the 2021-22 season. 

It wasn't long ago that the defensive line was by far the Redskins worst position group on the team. In 2016, they had the worst run defense in the league. 

Credit to the team for fixing that, finally. 

And credit to the team for recognizing young talent, and proactively getting a deal done before Ioannidis hits free agency. 

Redskins fans often say they want their team to do what the good teams do. Here's the formula: find hidden talent late in the draft, develop that talent, sign them long-term. 

With the Matt Ioannidis contract extension, that's exactly what Washington just did. 

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Amidst Jags controversy, Landon Collins goes full Suge Knight to recruit Jalen Ramsey to Redskins

USA Today Sports Images

Amidst Jags controversy, Landon Collins goes full Suge Knight to recruit Jalen Ramsey to Redskins

Even during this relatively quiet period of the NFL calendar, there's still plenty of controversy around the league.

Take Jacksonville for example, where Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been firing back at executive vice president Tom Coughlin for saying he wants every player to attend the team's voluntary offseason workouts. Ramsey, as you may have already guessed, has elected to skip these workouts. 

Seeing an opportunity, new Redskins safety Landon Collins invited Ramsey to Washington via Twitter, going into full Suge Knight "Come to Death Row" mode to make his pitch. 

Ramsey seemed quite amused by the prospect, but also didn't seem totally opposed to the idea of teaming up with Collins in D.C. 

While it's unlikely Washington trades for Ramsey, nothing's stopping you from firing up the NFL Roster Builder and putting the two-time Pro Bowler in burgundy and gold, Redskins fans!