In my nine years covering the Redskins, this much is safe to say: Spurrier has created the best atmosphere at Redskin Park. It's much, much, much better than last year under Marty Schottenheimer, when even the PR types didn't trust the coaches. There was an us-versus-them mentality within the building. Now, if it exists, it's the Redskins against the world of doubters out to watch Spurrier fail.
Player after player has said how much fun they're having this season. And how much they enjoy playing with these teammates. And how much they like the coaching staff.
It's hard to measure what that means. It's safe to say it means something. Two years ago the Redskins were anything but a team. Not that there was in-fighting. But they were more a collection of names. When they stumbled after the 6-2 start, they couldn't recover. Why? Because they lacked chemistry. Also, they played for a coach in Norv Turner who claimed he was confident, but came across as insecure.
With Spurrier, there's no need for him to proclaim his confidence. You can see it. You can feel it. That rubs off onto the players.
''It's fun to be on this team right now,'' Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. ''It's the atmosphere around here and how everyone conducts themselves. Guys are more into having fun and keeping it a game and not making it into something it shouldn't be. There's a trickle-down effect [from Spurrier].''
We're guessing that's worth a few wins. There's every reason to pick them to fail, starting at quarterback with the unproven tandem of Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. But there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic: a potentially incredible defense, top-flight tackles and a running back to build around on offense. And Spurrier. The man is a lot of things--he's as thin-skinned a coach as you'll meet. Who cares about that? All that matters is the players like his swagger and mimic it.
Our guess? A 9-7 record, which will challenge for the playoffs. We don't like the speed at receiver--not enough playmakers there. But there's a lot to like because of Spurrier.
Now, for a look at Sunday's 1 p.m. season opener against Arizona:
Offensive player to watch: Quarterback Shane Matthews. He's smart enough to beat this defense.
Defensive player to watch: Safety David Terrell. Arizona wants to attack downfield; the second-year starter must take that away.
Where the Redskins should attack: Through the air. Arizona recorded 19 sacks last season and the Cardinals line remains bad. Which means no pass rush. They lack depth in the secondary and corner Duane Starks had problems last year with double moves. Why is that good for Washington? Because that's all their receivers run.
Matchup to watch: Corner Champ Bailey vs. receiver David Boston. He has the size and speed to dominate, but Bailey usually has big games against Arizona. He fared well against Boston in the first game last year (most of his catches came against other defenders or in zones).
Why the Redskins will win: Because their strengths offset Arizona's. Washington can stop the pass; Arizona can only throw the ball. Also, the Redskins have a tailor-made opener for their passing attack. They can build confidence with a strong game, albeit against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. If the Redskins throw a lot, it's as much indicative of the opponent as the offensive mindset. This is the perfect opener for Washington, and Spurrier. Watch out, Cardinals.
Signs of trouble: If Arizona running back Thomas Jones runs well; too many big plays downfield.