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Saunders: Coaching On the Run




Chances are, one of the first things Redskins fans will notice when they show up to watch the start of training camp on Monday at 4 p.m., is this: the energetic and enthusiastic coaching style of Al Saunders.

In some circles, he's been referred to as the Redskins' most significant off-season acquisition. As associate head coach-offense, Saunders will be calling the shots for a Washington offense that had a successful 2005 season but was lethargic in the postseason at Tampa Bay and Seattle.

Saunders' coaching style is not unique in the NFL but it stands out nonetheless. An established long-distance runner and swimmer, Saunders, as Redskins fans will see firsthand beginning Monday afternoon, likes to follow his players step-for-step.

His method is based upon the fact that he's able to offer support or criticism over a particular practice habit or sequence on the go. What better way, the point seems to be, to teach a player a new idea or scheme.

Coaching on the run is the modus operandi for Al Saunders when it comes to practice routines. It's nurturing in its intent, more so than critical.

It's a way of coaching players that Saunders developed all the way back in 1982, when he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Tennessee under Johnny Majors.

Also on that Tennessee staff in the early '80s was Bobby Jackson, the Redskins' assistant coach under Norv Turner between 1994 and 1999.

Like Saunders, Jackson was a coaching-on-the-go adherent. In 1999, as running game coordinator with the Redskins, Jackson goaded Stephen Davis into his breakthrough season in the NFL.

Saunders and Jackson crossed paths not only at Tennessee but also at St. Louis with the Rams in 2000. They were on the offensive coaching staff of Mike Martz during the run of one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history.

Now, Saunders arrives in Washington with an impressive coaching resume and an offensive system that has had great success over the years. Formerly with the Kansas City Chiefs, Saunders oversaw the league's top-ranked offense the last two seasons.

During training camp, fans will get their first look at the Redskins' revamped offense.

One of the more enlightening comments Saunders made about his offense came during the Redskins' June mini-camp.

Asked to compare the Redskins' offense of 2005 to his 2006 version, Saunders replied: "To the naked eye, it will probably be a little more of a spread-out offense. We won't be quite as compact, although there will be times that we will be. We'll probably be a little more vertical in the passing game, with more receivers involved in the routes.

"Last year, there were a lot of maximum protection schemes in place--and that was for a real sound reason. I think now we are developing a phase of our offense by which we can spread people out a little more.

"We'll probably be a little bit more of a perimeter run team, as much as we were an inside running team [last year]. The run game will expand from sideline to sideline and the passing game will expand from the line of scrimmage to the end zone."

Those statements ought to be enough to get Redskins players and fans revved up over 2006.

"I hope they're as excited about it as I am," Saunders said. "We've got a terrific group of players and they're learning the offense extremely well. We're just trying to put all of the parts together with some excellent skill players."

What Redskins fans will begin to see on Monday is another upbeat coach with the capacity to energize his players. His style--following his players all over the field--may seem a bit quirky at first.

Still, coaching on the go has proved highly successful for Al Saunders throughout his 24 years in the NFL.

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