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Washington Redskins bye week gives players chance to refocus

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Redskins rookie Ryan Kerrigan, the NFL's September Rookie of the Month, has been a key piece of the team so far. (Photo: Associated Press)

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Last weekend, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan held a news conference at an unusual day and time: Saturday at 9 a.m.

It was an exercise in fulfilling a technicality, virtually useless from a news standpoint. Any and all updates for the next day's game against the St. Louis Rams had been given the previous afternoon when the coach addressed reporters after practice.

Shanahan was holding court solely because the NFL requires coaches to speak a certain number of times per week. He declined to do so on Tuesday following the Monday night loss at Dallas a few days earlier. Never mind that the NFL's media rules explicitly suggest that he do so. Never mind that every Redskins coach in recent decades — including Hall of Fame inductee Joe Gibbs — never had trouble finding a few minutes after a Monday night road game to help feed the public's insatiable appetite for the latest up-to-date word on the nation's most popular sport.

Instead, Shanahan called the league office and begged off.

"I've got to do the best thing for the organization," Shanahan said. "And the best thing for the organization for me to do when you get back at 5 o'clock in the morning when we have no sleep is to get ready for the next day. So I think I owe it to our football team, our organization, to spend the whole day, 24 hours, getting the game plan ready for that Wednesday."

Shanahan's different in lots of ways. A week earlier, just before a game against the despised Dallas Cowboys, a television reporter asked the coach if he had a special message for the fans. It's a standard question before a rivalry game, and Redskins coaches usually take that softball and hit it out of the park.

Shanahan was almost speechless.

"To who? What fans?" he said, before being asked again if he had a message to convey to the team's supporters. "No, hopefully they'll enjoy it. And hopefully we can make our fans happy."

Actually, that's one of the few times this season Shanahan has been caught off guard. Everyone expected life at Redskins Park to be take a sharp turn when he arrived a year ago, but it's taken him a year to get his hands firmly on the steering wheel. There were episodes that spiraled beyond even his controlling grasp during his first season, most having to do with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb.

This year, he is in control beyond any doubt. He's got the roster pretty much the way he wants it. He's got the coaching staff on the same page. He's visibly much more relaxed. And, of course, it helps that his team is defying expectations with a 3-1 start headed into this weekend's bye.

"I think you're always more relaxed in your second year," Shanahan said. "I think, first year, you have so many things going on — with evaluating personnel, and you're evaluating coaches, you're evaluating your support staff, and you're getting ready for a football season."

It shows in the way Shanahan banters with reporters. His answers about players' injuries have become notoriously repetitive and uninformative, to the point that when someone asked for an injury update a few days ago, he laughed and said: "Aw, you guys know — I never tell you the truth anyhow."

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