JUDGE: Marty gave it his best Schott in D.C.

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Clark Judge

When Marty Schottenheimer resurrected Washington last season, reviving the Redskins from an 0-5 start to an 8-8 finish, he never gained the recognition he deserved. So he didn't make the playoffs. Big deal. I thought the guy did some of the best work of his career. Now someone else does, too. Say hello to Marty Schottenheimer. "The only other one up to this one that I consider to have been my best job was the job we did in Cleveland in 1988 when we lost four quarterbacks and still went 10-6," said Schottenheimer, now the head coach with San Diego. "After two years off there was some uncertainty, with me wondering has it changed to the point where my style couldn't be effective. But it proved to me it still worked." Schottenheimer's one season in Washington was marked by turmoil, losing with Jeff George, winning with Tony Banks and, ultimately, one of the biggest one-year cash payoffs in NFL history. It was a year he won't forget. It's a year he shouldn't. "This one was never as grim as it was portrayed to be," Schottenheimer said. "There were several players who did not like the way we operated and the things we did. But it was not a majority. "The other part was that what happens to a team early on is something I refer to as ¿anxiety' — anxiety between the players and the coaches in terms of, ¿What exactly is it you want me to do?' And this anxiety takes away from your focus and, as a result, you're not able to do some things that you otherwise might be able to do. "The bottom line is that, ultimately, we made a few plays in a timely fashion to win games. We were well on our way to being 0-6 against Carolina, but we came back, won the game and went on a run. The players kept fighting the battle, the coaches did a tremendous job and I just kept my mouth shut and stayed working because I knew the thing would turn around. I knew because I knew we had good players." Schottenheimer didn't win any Coach of the Year votes, but maybe he should have. Five weeks into the season Washington wasn't just a bad team. It was the league's worst, ranked at or near the bottom in nearly all offensive and defensive categories. Then it knocked off Carolina, 17-14 in overtime, before winning won five of its next six — including victories over Denver, the New York Giants and Philadelphia, all playoff entries from the season before. When it was over, Schottenheimer had won 8 of his last 11 with a reject quarterback and a philosophy that experts like defensive end Bruce Smith said wouldn't work. Well, it did. They did. For that reason, Schottenheimer believes the Redskins are in good shape, and he'll get no argument here. They have young talent at key positions, they have Stephen Davis at running back and they don't have salary-cap nightmares. But they don't have a legitimate starter at quarterback, and they don't have Schottenheimer, and both could hurt the club. "The issues as related to the cap have been addressed in part, but I think it's a good football team," said Schottenheimer. "But they have to get a consistent performance out of the quarterback position. The runner (Davis) is a great player, and they have two great tackles. Chris Samuels is a guy who can be Anthony Munoz — as good as any around — and (Jon) Jansen is an excellent, excellent player. "Then you go to the defensive side and you have LaVar (Arrington, linebacker) and Champ Bailey. They've got good players, but like everyone else they've got to get the consistency at quarterback."

Seeking Saunders

The Oakland Raiders contacted Kansas City for permission to talk to offensive coordinator Al Saunders, but it's not known how serious the interest is. Saunders hasn't been a head coach since 1988 when he was with San Diego, but he's an expert on the AFC West. He spent most of his career with the Chargers and Chiefs. Saunders wants to be a head coach again, and the perception is that he was brought to Kansas City to succeed Dick Vermeil. Maybe that happens; maybe it doesn't. Sources close to Saunders said they would be surprised if he talks to Oakland, but, hey, there are only 32 of these jobs available, right? And only one is open, with Raiders' offensive coordinator Bill Callahan still considered the favorite to land the job.

Staying in San Diego?

There's a perception that San Diego will let defensive tackle and prospective free-agent John Parrella walk without a fight. Not exactly true. The front office insists that re-signing Parrella, the club's only player to start every game the last five seasons, is a top priority ¿ but not at the figures he's seeking. The club is trying to negotiate a contract that pays him $3 million annually, but Parrella thinks he can do better on the open market. He probably can. If that's the case, he's as good as gone. Ironically, Parrella was drafted in 1993 by Buffalo and cut a year later. The GM then? John Butler, now the general manager with the Chargers.

Roaming Roaf

Tackle Willie Roaf's appearance in Kansas City should come as no surprise. The guy plays a position that could be one of need with the Chiefs. They could lose two tackles to free agency, Marcus Spears and Victor Riley, and Roaf is one of the best at the position. But that's not all. The man who drafted Roaf, Bill Kuharich, is the pro personnel director with the Chiefs. He's the guy who convinced president Carl Peterson and Coach Dick Vermeil to take a look at the unhappy Roaf, who's determined not to play another down for New Orleans. Roaf is recovering from knee surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the Chiefs want to check out the stability of the knee. They're also interesting in hearing from Roaf, expected to return to Birmingham, Ala., after Wednesday. Until they know the condition of his knee there is no indication how interested they might be or how much they'd be willing to trade to acquire him.

Saints don't have a prayer

Am I missing something or are the New Orleans Saints the team that blew up faster and harder than any franchise in the past year? Last February they were the defending NFC West champions, with the Super Bowl their next stop. Today they are a mess, with Roaf and offensive lineman Chris Naeole on their way out; defensive tackle La' Roi Glover down the road and general manager Randy Mueller this close to taking the same position with Atlanta. Mueller, interviewed earlier by Atlanta, met with Falcons' owner Arthur Blank for two days in Salt Lake City. As one personnel director said, if the Saints were any good do you think Mueller would be leaving for the Falcons? I think you can answer that.

The bottom line

The area of greatest concern for the San Diego Chargers is the offensive line, where four of last year's starting five earned the league minimum. Schottenheimer has a history of measuring clubs by their offensive lines, and the Chargers' front five wasn't good last year — particularly at guard. Look for that area to be addressed in the off-season. Schottenheimer likes to ride his running backs if he has good ones, and he has a potential star in LaDainian Tomlinson. To help him make the next move up, Schottenheimer will have to improve the blockers in front of him.

Chandler hits the charts

When Chris Chandler was released by Atlanta earlier this week he immediately ascended to second on the chart of free-agent quarterbacks, with only Trent Dilfer ahead of him. Chandler will get some play on the market, but it should be as a backup — not as a prospective starter. "Somebody will take a run at him," said one pro personnel director, "but it depends on the situation as to whether he can come in and start. His mobility isn't what it used to be, and his durability isn't what it used to be. He's very accurate, and he can still throw the ball down the field. The problem is that as the season goes on, he takes enough hits that, eventually, he gets hurt. In a perfect world, you want him as your number-two quarterback."

Rolling the dice

The San Diego Chargers aren't considered gamblers, but they took a risk when they wheeled out a $5 million signing bonus for wide receiver Tim Dwight. Dwight not only didn't play most of the second half of the season, he was the club's third receiver. Yet the Chargers paid the guy a five-year, $15 million deal in a move that puzzled more than a few NFL executives. Butler is here to end the confusion: "Everybody says, ¿Well, he's a third receiver. We'll see if he's the third receiver. And Tim's not only a receiver, he's a return specialist — and a damn good one. You have to look at him as an ascending player. He only has four years in the league. Pay for it now, and you have a good chance of making a lot of people happy later." Senior writer Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address,
Tagged: Falcons, Cowboys, Chiefs, Raiders, Saints, Giants, Redskins, Chargers, Tony Banks, Marcus Spears, Victor Riley, John Parrella, LaDainian Tomlinson, Stephen Davis, Champ Bailey, Chris Samuels, Jeff George

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