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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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Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

RICHMOND—Here is what you need to know on Wednesday, August 15, one day before the Washington Redskins host the Jets in their second preseason game. 

Talking points

The Redskins paid Orlando Scandrick $1 million and he didn’t play so much as a preseason snap for them. The money is gone, and the Redskins are left with what is mostly a youthful group at cornerback

The senior citizen is Josh Norman, who is 30 and entering his seventh NFL season. Quinton Dunbar is next on the age scale at 26. Those two will be the starters at cornerback on the outside. After them, youth rules the day. 

Fabian Moreau, 22, will take the slot corner position that Scandrick was going to fill. He is in his second NFL season having played just 59 snaps as a rookie. 

That’s 59 more NFL snaps than the next three players on the depth chart have combined. Rookies Greg Stroman, a seventh-round pick this year, Adonis Alexander, a supplemental sixth-round pick, and undrafted free agent Danny Johnson, all 22 years old, are the next men up if any of the top three on the depth chart falter or get injured. 

“I’m very impressed with them all,” said Jay Gruden. “You know, obviously Adonis not as much because he just got here, and he’s been hurt but he’s got the skill set that we’ve noticed, as far as your sixth corner, I think he’d be a very good guy to have in your building to develop. Watching Stroman and watching Danny Johnson compete and play, I’ve been impressed. Watching Fabian move inside, I’ve been very impressed.”

That all sounds good. However, Gruden made sure that everyone knows that the cornerback depth chart is not set in stone.

“We still have time if it doesn’t work out or if somebody gets injured, we still have time to make moves also ourselves,” he said.

The Redskins have about nine practices and three preseason games before they have to set their roster. If it proves that their confidence in the young corners is not well founded, they could look to pick up an alternative on the waiver wire, in the free agent market (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is still available), or via a trade.

The best-case is that the kids work out. But if not, there are alternatives. 

Bureau of statistics

The 2017 Redskins were sixth in the league in pass defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. 

Trending on social

The agenda

Today: No media availability

Upcoming: Preseason Jets @ Redskins (Aug. 16) 1 day; Final cut (Sept. 1) 17 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 25 days

In case you missed it

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

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Terrelle Pryor, DJ Swearinger get into heated exchange during Day 3 of Redskins-Jets practice

Terrelle Pryor, DJ Swearinger get into heated exchange during Day 3 of Redskins-Jets practice

The Redskins' joint practices with the Jets have been nothing short of entertaining.

Day 1 of practice brought a couple of brawls between the two teams, with one spilling into the sideline where fans were standing. 

Day 2 was relatively calm, but Day 3 has brought another altercation, this time between former teammates Terrelle Pryor and DJ Swearinger. 

During a one-on-one rep, safety Monte Nicholson broke up a pass to Pryor. As Pryor started walking back to the sideline, a very hyped-up DJ Swearinger had more than a few things to say about it. As the two inched closer, Swearinger fakes a punch, causing Pryor to flinch and creating roars from the Redskins sideline. 

It's clear the Redskins' DBs have strong feelings towards their ex-teammate. Back in June, inside linebacker Zach Brown said the 'Skins would "have it out" for Pryor during their joint practices. 

While Pryor won't be playing in Thursday's preseason game, let's hope the competition continues over nonetheless.