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Redskins Make Practice Fun

November 6, 1998

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) _ In a routine practice drill, Michael Westbrook stuck out his hand to catch a pass. The ball glanced off and hit the ground.

``That’s 10! That’s 10!″ yelled a couple of players.

Minutes later, at the end of the drill, Westbrook was doing his 10 push-ups, part of a player accountability drive meant to bring fun _ and winning _ back to the Washington Redskins.

``It’s made practice a lot more fun,″ quarterback Trent Green said. ``Guys are a lot more into it, a lot more enthusiastic. There’s a lot of joking going on.″

It all started two weeks ago, during the bye week. The Redskins were 0-7 and desperate for answers.

Then several things happened. Leslie Shepherd launched the kangaroo court for the receivers: Drop a pass, give me 10. The offensive linemen caught on, and soon it became 20 push-ups for a false start. Given the problems the Redskins have had this year with penalties, drops and turnovers, it seemed like a good idea.

But fun?

``It’s fun because it’s pressure on the guys,″ Shepherd said. ``And every time the ball’s in the air, it’s like, `Wow, is he going to catch it or is he going to drop it?′ And it makes us all better.″

Meanwhile, the defense overhauled its approach to practice. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, citing a lack of aggressiveness, starting making his players chase the ball constantly. He then created a feedback system that offered points for making certain plays. He said he did it ``to generate the enthusiasm you find in college practices.″

There’s also a flipside: Anyone caught not hustling after a ball is featured at the next team meeting on a film called the ``Buster Reel.″

``They don’t like to be seen as someone who’s not getting to the ball and not doing those things,″ Nolan said. ``And so it’s an encouragement to point out the positives, and it’s also a different type of motivator when you point out who’s not going to the ball and who is.″

Finally, the entire team seemed to adopt a carefree joviality that shed a lot of nervous tension. ``When you’re 0-7, what have you got to lose?″ was the way guard Rob Milstead put it.

On Sunday, the attitude adjustments paid off. There were no turnovers and fewer penalties, and the defense swarmed around the ball unlike any time this season in a 21-14 victory over the New York Giants.

``When you’re 0-7, you need to find something in terms of a spark to keep guys going and keep guys motivated,″ Green said. ``And it really worked.″

Push-ups are now a common sight in practice, and Nolan is still running the defense ragged. ``I told him I’m too old for that stuff,″ 38-year-old cornerback Darrell Green said with a laugh.

It’s fun, yet intense. Given the results, coach Norv Turner can’t help but give his approval.

``In each group, they’ve got different things to motivate each other,″ Turner said. ``Every time they drop a ball they have to do push-ups. I’d prefer not to see them doing push-ups; I prefer to see them catch the ball, but it’s effective.

``When you’re struggling, it is a little depressing. The whole approach when we started the bye was, ‘Hey, let’s put this behind us. We’ve got a week to regroup and we can make this thing fun.’ We can make these last nine weeks fun.″

Running back Terry Allen (sprained ankle) is out for Sunday’s game at Arizona and could miss another game. Rookie Skip Hicks will make his first NFL start Sunday in Allen’s place.

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